The Belgian Grand Prix in 2008 was one of the greatest and most controversial of recent years after Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen went wheel to wheel on a dampening track with the Finn crashing out and the Englishman demoted to third after a post race penalty. However earlier that day a man from Venezuela in South America by the name of Pastor Maldonado was celebrating a second win in GP2 after coming through from 6th to pass Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio on the final with a stunning move on the outside down Kemmel straight into Les Combes. It was the second victory in GP2 for Maldonado but it has been his 4th year in the series where he has finally shone through. He has always been a quick and feisty competitor but 2010 has seen a more consistent side to his performances and he sealed the title last month at Monza, fending off new Sauber signing Sergio Perez
The Venezuelan's career has been a tale of ups and downs from a test with Minardi when he was just 19 to a multiple race ban for injuring a steward and a broken collarbone sustained in training three years ago but now as GP2 champion he finds himself on the cusp of the ultimate stage of Formula 1. His situation is comparable with the one Vitaly Petrov found himself 12 months ago. The Russian had cemented a decent reputation in GP2 and had significant financial backing from his homeland. At the time, Renault had been hit by several sponsors leaving the team in the wake of crashgate and needed a boost, both in morale and in finance. A seat was open and Petrov managed to take advantage and land himself a F1 opportunity.
This season has seen a pretty stable driver market and with GP2 rival Sergio Perez taking a potential seat at Sauber, things were looking pretty bleak. However what looked like a unchanged pairing at Williams has been cast into more and more doubt in recent weeks with senior personnel at the team talking about losing major sponsors at the end of the year and how the driver situation is still unresolved. It appears Nico Hulkenberg could find himself out of a seat. I feel the rookie has done well this season, improving throughout the year and competing well against Rubens Barrichello. The problem is he may need to bring some money to the team to keep his seat and with 6 other Germans currently on the grid this is quite a difficult task. Contrast that with Maldonado, who is a national hero in his native land and has plenty of backing from government authorities and businesses.
Now don't get me wrong, Maldonado is a capable guy and not just buying a seat. What these finances could do though is propel him from starting out at the bottom to coming into a team like Williams who have been regular points finishers in the second half of the season. It means more expectation but i am sure the 25 year old would take that for the opportunity to better show his ability and go up against a grand prix winner like Barrichello. It also could send a further shake up into the driver market. Hulkenberg could look at Renault and Force India as options if he is forced out. Another element of this is if Renault drop Petrov, the Russians backing may be an alternative option for Williams to consider. The Venezuelan media seem almost sure that their man is in for next year and while this should be taken with caution as it could be their desperation to see Maldonando make F1 seeping through, it certainly seems plausible and is definitely something to watch as teams finalise their drivers for 2011.