Pastor Maldonado has been confirmed as Romain Grosjean’s teammate at Lotus F1 next year. The Venezuelan will drive for the team after a three-year stint at Williams.
Maldonado formula 1 future has been the subject of intense speculation for months. The former GP2 Series champion has grown increasingly unhappy with the lack of results at Williams, and successfully negotiated an early release from his contract with the Grove-based team to pursue what he believed were more competitive seats on the market.
Williams was quick to line up the experienced Felipe Massa in Maldonado’s place for next year, while the 28-year-old quickly became a central player in the driver market as his hefty PDVSA backing proved attractive to both Lotus and Sauber, both of whom put firm offers on the table.
Lotus was itself holding out for finds to arrive from the Quantum Motorsports investment consortium, which had negotiated a partial buyout of the team back in June. If that money arrived, the team would have signed up Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg, but – despite repeated and increasingly feeble assurances – the deal has broken down and Lotus has opted for Maldonado’s $40-million-a-year dowry instead.
After much-publicised funding issues that have dogged the team for most of the season, Lotus needed a serious cash injection to keep itself competitive and its hand was effectively forced.
“I have known [Pastor] since he drove for me at DAMS in the 2005 World Series by Renault season,” Lotus F1 team principal Eroc Boullier said in the team’s media release confirming the news.
“It is clear that Pastor has pace and potential – demonstrated by his 2010 GP2 Series title success and then through strong races throughout his career at Williams F1 Team – and we are convinced that we will be able to provide the correct environment to enable him to flourish regularly on track.”
“It is a fantastic opportunity for me to join Lotus F1 Team for 2014,” Maldonado added.
“It’s no secret that I have wanted a change of scene to help push on with my Formula 1 career and Lotus F1 Team offered the very best opportunity for me to be competitive next season. The regulations and cars will change significantly so it is a very good time for a fresh start. I can’t wait to be racing in black and gold.”
The team’s media release tried to emphasise the news of Grosjean’s widely-expected re-signing rather than its hiring of Maldonado. It also did not simultaneously confirm the news that PDVSA will join it as a major sponsor – that will come in a later press release.
While much of the focus will be on the latter, having Grosjean confirmed gives the team some continuity and a chance of more forward progress after the Frenchman’s hugely impressive 2013 season.
“[Romain] has really made the most of his tremendous talent over the latter part of the 2013 season and will be a fantastic asset to our 2014 challenge,” Boullier added.
While it won’t publically admit it, the team knows that signing Maldonado will do nothing for its credibility – few believe the deal would have gone ahead were it not for the enormous sponsorship he carries.
Certainly the team has already copped plenty of flak for its decision to go with Maldonado, but it does ultimately have the future of the entire team to consider. There really is little point in taking the risk of running an ultra-competitive line-up when there’s so little cashflow that the whole project collapses mid-season.
With Hülkenberg’s hopes of a Lotus miracle now over, the German is likely – according to our sources – to return to Force India. It’s far from what he deserves, but fans can remain hopeful that a frontline team with a bit of commonsense – and a healthier bank balance – will one day have the sense to hire him when the opportunity arises.