Last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix brought good news for Williams’ error-prone driver, Pastor Maldonado. Not only did the Venezuelan driver pick up his first points finish since his brilliant win at the Spanish Grand Prix, his future at the team is now seemingly secure on the back of the re-election of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez.
There had been some suggestions that his hold on power – with its legitimacy being questioned by many outside the country – was slipping on the back of a recent cancer diagnosis.
That issue aside, Chávez has been a principal supporter of Venezuela’s growing motorsport presence, with the state-owned PDVSA petroleum empire helping bankroll several of the country’s aspiring racing drivers’ careers up the motorsport ladder.
Maldonado has been one such beneficiary, with his seat at Williams assured courtesy of a $50 million a year dowry from PDVSA – an amount that more than offsets the hefty spare parts bill he has racked up in his one-and-a-bit accident-prone seasons with ‘Team Willy’.
However, had Chávez lost his election – a highly unlikely scenario – then that would almost certainly have spelled the end of his brief F1 career.
Maldonado is a handy peddler on his day – rare as that has proven to be – but there are plenty of well-heeled drivers waiting in the wings to supplant him, should the opportunity arise.
Williams is by now means the cash-rich team it once was in previous decades, but the substantial income he brings in has helped the team invest in a talented team of technical staff who have undoubtedly helped the team progress up the field by dint of the more competitive machinery they are producing.
The gloves will be off in the battle between Bruno Senna and Valtteri Bottas for a seat in Williams’ 2013 race line-up. Bruno brings some cash and stability, but Bottas is very attractive to rival teams…
One could of course wonder what the team might actually have achieved with two more stable drivers in its line-up, but one should offset that against the substantial revenue hit the team would incur in the absence of either Maldonado or Senna, who himself brings in several million in sponsorship from his native Brazil.
Chávez’s re-election would certainly spell the continuation of Maldonado’s career, all the while leaving Senna’s position in the team looking increasingly shaky, despite the fact that he has achieved more point-scoring finishes than his team-mate.
The team is keen to promote its third driver, Valtteri Bottas, into its frontline line-up. Young, quick and very talented, Bottas is managed by Williams shareholder ‘Toto’ Wolff, but he comes with little in the way of his own commercial backing from his native Finland.
So will Williams ditch Senna for Bottas? Many signs are pointing that this could be the case, but only the team truly knows…