THE MALDONADOMINOES BEGIN TO FALL
Finally, after more deliberation than necessary, the first domino in the F1 Driver Market chain reaction has toppled. Pastor Maldonado has been confirmed as Lotus F1 Team’s second driver for 2014. The move ends any chance of Nico Hulkenberg progressing up the grid and is a move that many in the paddock will be critical of, given the two drivers’ relative performances this year, with Maldonado scoring a single point to Hulkenberg’s mighty 51 . Nevertheless, the Venezuelan will join Romain Grosjean at the Enstone-based team, who was confirmed at the same time, and will be their lead driver for the first time in his 3-year tenure at Lotus.
As you might be aware, the team have been waiting on a cash injection from a group called Quantum, and it was thought that if this deal was successful, the German would get the drive. Lotus are still adamant that this deal will be finalised soon, but with Pastor’s PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela) Dollars rolling in, it may not be necessary. Kimi Raikkonen threatened not to drive for the final two races of the season after he was not paid any money all year due to unstable economics within the team, so they will be grateful for the sponsorship money that their new driver will bring; expect Maldonado to try and prove he is more than a pay driver.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH HIM
Following the aforementioned Maldonado signing at Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg signed for Force India once again to nestle back into the team he left not 12 months ago. Widely regarded as the best driver not in a front-running car, it is little surprise that the Indian outfit were keen to re-sign the rapid German. The move won’t tell if it’s good or bad until the cars get on the track in Melbourne next March, as the regulations will completely level the playing field, but like he has done in the past, whatever the car’s abilities, Nico should extract 100% of them; he is no stranger to outperforming his equipment. After a pretty good debut year at Williams where he nabbed Pole Position in Brazil he sat on the substitute bench at Force India in 2011, and then made the step up to Second Driver for 2012, scoring an excellent 4th place finish in Belgium and leading nearly half of the Brazilian Grand Prix, a track of which he has become known as a master.
Being a fast driver in an average car is a curse and a blessing, as the mid-field teams all want you, but there’s no telling who’s the best. Sauber looked like the best option last year with their 4 podiums and almost-win in Malaysia, so off Nico went. This year’s car, the C32, proved to be mediocre to begin with, and he terminated his contract before the season was even half-way through, though a decent development cycle saw it improve massively towards the end of the season, and he was able to repeat his best result of 4th in Korea, surely the drive of the Season. Perhaps learning a lesson in staying power after the cut-and-run approach applied in the last two years, his deal is ‘Mult-year’ meaning we could see him there for a long time.
MYSTERY SECOND DRIVER
Force India Team owner Vijay Mallaya has historically waited until after the team’s Christmas party to announce their drivers. It wasn’t until March 2013 that the world found out about Adrian Sutil’s re-appointment, so we could be waiting a while to find out if he or anyone else is to be confirmed. The other candidates for the seat are Paul di Resta and recently-sacked McLaren driver Sergio Perez. Though he left on ‘good terms’ with the Woking-based squad, he feels his time was cut short. McLaren and Force India were very evenly matched for the most part of last season, so it would be the best team to sign for in terms of vengeance, though his motives are likely to be more professional than that.
Sutil had kept hinting recently that something was about to materialise, particularly in interviews in Austin, so maybe he is the favourite at the current moment, though keep in mind that nothing is confirmed yet. As for di Resta? The Scot has been well and truly pessimistic about his chances of staying at the team, and believes that his future may be headed to the United States in the IndyCar series. It remains to be seen if one of them will be willing to duck out and be the team’s Reserve Driver for a year, and it’s a great shame that these three fast drivers are all competing for the same seat, as only one can get it – that’s just the nature of Formula One.