Rumours about Nico Hulkenberg's future at Williams appear to be true, with reports that the young German is set to be replaced by former ART Grand Prix team-mate and successor as GP2 Series champion Pastor Maldonado in 2011.
The Venezuelan, who finally claimed the GP2 crown after four mercurial seasons in the feeder series, has made no secret of the backing he can bring to an F1 team, and reports in Brazil claim that Williams - which is set to lose several high-profile sponsors at the end of the year - looks ready to take the bait. With Rubens Barrichello providing a veteran view on the development of the Grove team's latest car, Hulkenberg would be the unfortunate victim of the Williams' need to find the budget for 2011, despite beginning to grow as an F1 driver in recent races.
Should he be confirmed - and the deal, according to Grande Premio
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, was completed in Caracas earlier this month - Maldonado will become the third GP2 Series champion to make his F1 debut with Williams, following in the footsteps of Hulkenberg and inaugural title winner Nico Rosberg, now with Mercedes. Already disappointed at failing to keep hold of Rosberg, who left for the apparent success offered by the team that won the 2009 F1 title as Brawn GP, Williams now appears to be on the verge of having to release Hulkenberg from a multi-year contract - and face the possibility that the German could wind up in opposition next season.
Maldonado's deal is reportedly backed up by €15m from state-owned national petroleum giant PDVSA, which formerly back EJ Viso as far as a one-off Friday practice session with Spyker in 2006, confirming the former's claim that he has the support of the government behind him.
Neither party has spoken of the deal and, indeed, Hulkenberg continues to insist that he has a future at Williams. Speaking to Grande Premio
on the eve of the first Korean Grand Prix, the German says he will not be looking for sponsors to shore up his position, but hopes to remain a part of the Grove team's 2011 campaign.
"I do not want to be seen as a pay driver," he explained, "I have never wanted this and it's not my intention to start now. For me, what matters is talent - and I hope the team believes this too
"I think there is interest on both sides and I am quite confident we will continue together, but there is still nothing official from the team and nothing that I can talk about right now. What I can say is that the best thing for me - for my career and my development - would be to remain at Williams, because the car next year will be very competitive. The sooner [I know], the better, but we still have lots of travel, and that always makes everything more difficult. Therefore, I believe that we will only have a definition in a few weeks."