Pastor Maldonado is vastly under-rated and could be the surprise of the 2013 F1 season, according to the Williams
The Grove squad became the eleventh and last to unveil its new car ahead of the Barcelona group test on Tuesday (19 February) and, despite causing controversy with its exhaust design, appeared to have a solid base from which to develop ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in four weeks' time.
The driver line-up is different this year, with rookie Valtteri Bottas joining Maldonado in place of Bruno Senna, but, while the team insists that there is no favouritism towards either driver – Senna missed 15 FP1 sessions last year in order for Bottas to gain experience – it is the Venezuelan that it is expecting to deliver the best results.
Maldonado shocked the paddock by winning the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix at the same Circuit de Catalunya that witnessed the launch of the FW35, but then went on a nine-race run without adding to his tally, causing some to question his true ability. Williams' technical director Mike Coughlan, however, has no doubt that the former GP2
Series champion is a worthwhile inclusion in the line-up – and for more than the millions of oil dollars that his PDVSA sponsorship brings.
"Pastor is a great asset to our team," Coughlan told ESPN
, "He's well-liked, he's got fantastic natural ability and I think he's ready to step up.
"We really hope that Pastor brings the maturity he showed here last year to the races this year. His drive towards the end of the  season was tremendous. People didn't realise the problems he was carrying in the car, [and] he had a great performance.
“Last year, we had several opportunities we didn't close out, [and] I think, ultimately, as a team - including the drivers - what we need to do is focus on maximising our performance and delivering on it when we can. That's [the aim for 2013] really."
While there was disappointment in some quarters that Senna was not retained for a second season, most agree that Bottas is a step up for the team, despite his rookie status. Coughlan reiterated that there would be no favouritism towards Maldonado, despite the Venezuelan getting the first day in the FW35, and hoped that Bottas would be able to contribute to the team's push for an improvement in its constructors' championship position.
"Valtteri is very disciplined, he's very focused, he's worked very hard over the winter; he's lost some weight and done some strength work," Coughlan commented.
“We don't have a number one driver [and] are absolutely desperate to take the same car to every race. You have to realise that in some cases that's not possible, but we look after both our drivers in exactly the same manner - they have the same team and they have the same support.”
Bottas will get his first outing in the FW35 today [Wednesday].