Half Term Report: Pastor Maldonado

The Rookie Report:

Pastor Maldonado

He came to the Formula 1 grid with the uneasy label of being ‘the pay driver’, his substantial backing from the Venezuelan government via the state owned oil company PDVSA led some to believe it was financial motivation on Williams’ part for his debut. Although it can’t be denied that it has been of great help, Maldonado’s previous results have more than proved he has the ability and skill to warrant a seat with the prestigious team.

The Stats:

Races completed 11
Points 0
Retirements 3
Out-qualified team mate 6
Higher race position than team mate 2
Highest qualifying position 7th
Highest race position 14th
Average qualifying position 13th
Average race position 16th

The Season:

Maldonado running in his first race

For Williams as a whole this has been a season to forget for the legendary British outfit, this is the worst start to a season they’ve ever had and if the current form continues it could be the worst ever. Even as a rookie it’s hard to lay the blame at the feet of one of the least experienced drivers on the grid, his vastly experienced team mate Rubens Barrichello is also struggling to squeeze results out of the FW33. Although the Brazilian is the only one to have scored points, 4 in two races with two 9th positions, Maldonado’s presence is building as he gets to grips with the troublesome car.

Maldonado started the year on a positive note by out qualifying Barrichello by slotting his car into 15th, however his first weekend didn’t get off to a great start when he parked himself in the gravel during practice. And it didn’t finish on a high note either for either Williams driver, both suffered from transmissions issues that ended their races early, Maldonado just completed 9 laps before pulling up. And if he was hoping to for a quick turn around in Malaysia he would be disappointed, an engine misfire earned him an extra 8 laps to his tally. His first full race length Sunday came in China which corresponded with the first double finish for the Williams team in 2011, unsurprisingly Barrichello had the pace on him when they were up and running, however the tide began turn when he touched down in Spain.

Hamilton crashing into Maldonado in Monaco

The Circuit de Catalunya hosted Maldonado’s first appearance in Q3 and to make the occasion a little more special he qualified in 9th ahead of Michael Schumacher (although the 7 times champion didn’t post a time in the last session). And then to sweeten the weekend for himself he raced hard and finished ahead of Barrichello for the first time, even so he only passed the chequered flag in 15th. He looked set to repeat the feat in Monaco, a track where his prowess is renown, and he had his team mate in the battle of qualifying with another Q3 result. With 5 laps remaining and the points already set to open his F1 chequing account, Lewis Hamilton ploughed into him as he ran in an excellent 6th place.

Getting a push from the marshalls in Canada

Frustration mounted in Canada when a spin on the 61st lap of a soaking wet track ended another weekend early where he had the jump on Barrichello in qualifying. The Brazilian maintained the upper hand in Valencia, but the team rookie got his groove back in Silverstone where he clocked up his top qualifying result of a very respectable 7th, and highest race position of an alright 14th. He continued his great qualifying pace in Germany and Hungary, in the former dominating Barrichello and equalling his P14 in the race. In the latter he slipped behind and recieved a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

The Verdict:

He replaced a very popular 2010 rookie in Nico Hulkenberg, his pole position was the first for him, and a first for the team since the 2005 European GP (100 races ago). It might be a while until we see such a stellar result again, and it may well rest on the shoulders of this rookie, but this year could well be out of reach for this well loved team. Currently Maldonado’s rookie season heavily resembles the one of 2010 rookie Vitaly Petrov, both paired with a talented and experienced team mates and both struggled to make an impression. However Petrov’s second season, despite his own car issues, has faired better and the team has given him a title of ‘lead driver’, so who knows what Maldonado could produce next year, or the rest of the year for that matter.

Overall Maldonado has fared well in a car that some consider a write-off, and he hasn’t shied away from the considerable challenge the ultimate veteran in Barrichello has provided. When going up against someone with that volume of experience it is easy to fade into the background as they grab an errant car by the scruff of the neck and drag it up to speed. It is on race day that Maldonado generally lurks the considerable shadow Barrichello casts across the circuit, Maldonado’s race pace hasn’t be able to consistently match his other half. This said, in the last 7 races Maldonado has come back to the garage as the top driver 5 times, indicating that he is understanding the car better with more time. They may have both been hindered, at times, with reliability issues but wholesale changes throughout the team may just help the pair turn the corner and put a few more points on the board.

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