The 25 year old driver hails from Venezuela and has gained an impressive resume, warranting his first year in Formula One to be this season. The Venezuelan driver is replacing former 2010 rookie Nico Hulkenberg at Williams, his signing has been viewed as somewhat controversial as he’s coming with substantial backing. However if you look at the results he’s produced during his 4 seasons in GP2, it’s not surprising that he’s made the leap to F1 this year. Maldonado was linked to a seat with Campos Meta (Hispania) in 2010 but financial difficulties halted that and his chance went to Karun Chandhok. Maybe he wasn’t too disappointed after all…
So how has Maldonado ended up at Williams?
He apparently picked up his love of all things fast very early on, following the footsteps of his father and uncle. Aged 7 he got his first taste of rubber and made his debut on the karting track, securing 4 regional and 3 national championships between 1993-1999. Satisfied with what he achieved, he set his sights on the international titles and made the move to Europe.
Switching from karting to single seaters, he notched up the wins in the Formula Renault 2000 Winter Series in both 2002 and 2003, as well as being named rookie of the year. In 2004 he became the Italian Formula Renault 2000 champion and celebrated with a test in a Formula One car. The now defunct Minardi team gave him his first taste of his future, and Maldonado made quite the impression of then team owner, Giancarlo Minardi.
2005 saw Maldonado leave the Formula Renault series, but the year as a whole was incomplete. He competed in the Italian F3000, Spanish World Series and WSR. The latter providing a black mark on his burgeoning career, he was awarded a 4 race ban after injuring a marshal in Monaco. The following year was a definite improvement as he was signed to Draco Racing in order to compete in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.
His impressive performance with Draco Racing (3 wins, 6 further podiums, 5 poles, 3rd overall) got him a seat with Trident Racing for the 2007 season, he won the Monaco round but a collarbone fracture left him out of the running. A move to Piquet Sports in 2008 got him a 5th in the championship standings. ART Grand Prix took him on for the 2009 season, however teammate Nico Hulkenberg outraced him for much of the year.
The aforementioned chance with Campos Meta fell through, but this extra year in GP2 allowed him to win the championship convincingly, with 6 wins and 8 podiums. So like previous GP2 winners (Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg) an F1 seat beckoned. And so on December 1st 2010 it was confirmed by Williams that Maldonado would be joining Barrichello for the 2011 season.
His rookie year is going to be tough regarding the media, there is always going to be the question of whether it not he’s just a pay driver. Unfortunately for him excellence is expected immediately, so if he’s going to leave the gossip behind, he going to have to impress early on. And he’s going to have to impress us against the ultimate veteran, Rubens Barrichello.
Can he do it? Let’s see what he can bring to the grid this year.