Maldonado holds on to Williams seat
1 December 2011
It may have seen talks with Kimi Raikkonen break down ahead of the Finn being announced as a surprise signing by the Lotus Renault team, but Williams has pressed on with its own plans for 2012.
To that end, the Grove team confirmed that Pastor Maldonado would return for a second season in F1, while announcing the official promotion of Valtteri Bottas to the role of reserve driver.
Even as recently as last weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix, doubt was being cast over the Venezuelan's place in the team, as PDVSA's backing featured in an official court investigation, but Williams has clearly received the assurances it needed to re-sign the 2010 GP2 Series champion, despite Maldonado suffering the worst single season record ever posted by a Williams driver.
“Pastor has proven this year that he is not only quick, but also that he is able to maintain a consistent and strong race pace," team owner Sir Frank Williams countered, "He has been responsible for all of our forays into Q3 in 2011 and his race at Monaco was outstanding.
"Pastor has also settled into the team at Williams very well, contributing strongly in the factory and with our partners. He will play a critical role in 2012 as we rebuild the team and move forward.”
'Rebuilding the team' is expected to include adding a new face to replace the ageing Rubens Barrichello, with Force India's Adrian Sutil the current favourite now that Raikkonen is out of the picture.
"I am delighted to be able to continue with Williams into my second season and I will give my very best to help the team as we push to return to the front of the grid," Maldonado commented, "This has been a tough season for the whole team, but it has given me the opportunity to learn and develop. I am convinced that the steps we have taken to improve our competitiveness will bear fruit in 2012 and beyond. I am thrilled to be part of that and also to represent the people of Venezuela in F1.”
Bottas, meanwhile, also re-signs with the team after being snapped up as star of the future last season. The Finn had been rumoured as a possible race driver for 2012, but will now fulfil the role of official tester.
He recently joined Williams at the Abu Dhabi young driver test where he demonstrated mature car control and consistently quick lap times while providing considered and sound technical feedback durign two days of running.
“I would like to thank Frank Williams and the whole team for the investment that everyone at Williams has made to help me over the past two years," the Finn noted, "The opportunity now to continue this unique development with the position of reserve driver will enable me to gain essential experience as part of the race team in 2012. In this position, I will do my utmost to help the team to set up for a great race weekend and also look forward to playing a role off the track with the team at the factory and with our partners.”
After winning four prestigious kart titles between 2004 and 2006, Bottas moved into single-seater racing in 2007. He won both the Formula Renault Eurocup and NEC championships, with 22 wins from 48 starts. In F3, he was the highest-placed rookie in the Euroseries, finishing third in the championship before going on to take three wins - and claiming back-to-back Masters titles - in his second season. This year, he moved over to GP3 and, after a slow start, claimed the title with four wins in the last seven races.
“We have a very specific approach to young driver development, working with one highly talented individual over a period of years," Williams confirmed, "Valtteri has proved a very capable and rounded young man of fierce determination. As the team's reserve driver, we anticipate that Valtteri will participate in a Friday practice session at 15 grands prix next year, most likely with a more experienced driver taking over for the remainder of the race weekend. We will announce the identity of that driver in due course.”
Barrichello insists that he is not done with F1 despite having just completed his 19th season in the top flight, but it appears that he is unlikely to be Williams 'more experienced driver' next season.