Rewind just 15 months and the Williams F1 team was celebrating its first Formula One victory since 2004 and a certain Venezuelan’s first in the sport.
Pastor Maldonado’s Spanish Grand Prix triumph could have been a stepping stone for progress, but sadly Williams has gone back into a slump, struggling to compete against the spending might of the big manufacturer-backed outfits after an encouraging preseason.
Despite chief race engineer Xevi Pujolar’s insistence to ESPN that the team is progressing, the results so far haven’t been impressive.
Maldonado got off to a poor start in Australia, being outqualified by his rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas before spinning into retirement after 24 laps. Malaysia saw a second successive retirement due to a KERS issue, and, despite finishing for the first time in China, the Venezuelan was behind his teammate and ahead of only the Marussias and Caterhams.
Bahrain saw an improvement, Maldonado finishing one place out of the points before heading to the scene of last year’s triumph. Maldonado later told his team’s website that he hoped the result would be a stepping stone for more positive results.
Considering the problems we have been having, I think we got 100% out of the car today. We put everything together today, working well as a team and managing the tyres, and 11th was the maximum we could have achieved. We are really looking forward to the next race where we should see a step forward. We must stay together and positive. It's a difficult time, but we still have many races to go.
The step forward Maldonado was hoping for did not materialise though, again being outgunned by Bottas in qualifying and finishing a distinctly average 14th. What a difference a year makes.
Onto Monaco and more misfortune as Max Chilton didn’t see Maldonado to his right and tipped the Williams into the barriers, leading to a drive through penalty for the Brit but another DNF for Maldonado.
Montreal would have been slightly disheartening, if not embarrassing for Maldonado. Before the season the former GP2 champion would have been viewed as the undoubted team No. 1. But Bottas had already bettered him in qualifying in four out of six races, and the young Finn was the star of the show in Canada, putting his Williams a superb third on the grid. Although 14th was a poor return from such a position, he was still the lead Williams at the finish.
Maldonado was now under significant pressure from his own teammate and desperately needed to turn things around at Silverstone. Again it was close, but the Venezuelan came out one place higher in both qualifying and the race to record his second 11th place of the season.
It was back to Bottas in qualifying for Germany, but Maldonado finished a place above him in the team’s landmark 600th race before finally having something to smile about in Hungary with a first points finish of the season. Quoted on his team’s press release afterwards, a relieved Maldonado said his aim was to keep scoring points.
I had a really good start from P15 and made a few overtaking manoeuvres during the race which were on the limit, which is especially pleasing as at this track it is very hard to overtake. The car felt consistent, maybe not as fast in the second and third stints, but very consistent. I really want to keep scoring points now and be even stronger during the second part of the season.
The rumours coming out of Venezuela paper state that Maldonado is in the running for a seat at Ferrari.
According to Correo del Orinoco, a Venezuelan government backed newspaper, Pastor Maldonado is fighting for Ferrari seat in 2014. #F1— f1talks.pl (@f1talks) August 15, 2013
It seems far fetched and after the promise of 2012 and in his third full season in Formula One, his performances haven’t been what you would expect against his rookie teammate. The jury is still out.
Pastor’s Midseason Marks
Race craft: 6/10
Summary: Has generally been outshone by Bottas in qualifying and not demonstratively better on race pace. The second half of 2013 will be fascinating.
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