Pastor Maldonado in Desperate Need of Good Result in 2015 Spanish Grand Prix

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2015

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - APRIL 16:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus speaks to the media at the drivers press conference during previews to the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 16, 2015 in Bahrain, Bahrain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Formula One teams have around 27 million reasons to employ Pastor Maldonado, but even those have little justification after the opening four races of the 2015 season.

That—$27 million—is the price he (or rather, PDVSA, his personal sponsor) pays for the pleasure of driving for Lotus in the pinnacle of motorsport, according to Autosport's Ian Parkes.

And it is clear who gets the better deal.

While Maldonado gets to pretend to be one of the 20 fastest drivers in the world, revelling in the priceless experience of racing on the same stretch of tarmac as modern greats such as Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, Lotus, one of the proudest institutions in the history of F1, are reduced to a one-car team, their constructors' championship prospects significantly undermined.

The effect of this was concealed throughout last season when the team's underwhelming, underpowered E22 car left Maldonado and team-mate Romain Grosjean with only rare point-scoring opportunities.

But the arrival of the silver bullet in the form a Mercedes power unit, which comes with it a free ticket to the upper echelons of the midfield, has only served to illustrate how considerable an obstacle the Venezuelan is to collective success.

Since the team's false start in Australia, where both cars retired on the first lap on the race, Grosjean has recovered sufficiently to become a regular presence in the top 10, reaching Q3 in Malaysia, China and Bahrain, as well as securing two consecutive seventh-place finishes.

Maldonado, by contrast, has remained trapped in the early segments of qualifying, suffering a puncture after making contact with Valtteri Bottas at Sepang, missing the pit-entry, spinning on track and colliding with Jenson Button at Shanghai before hitting Max Verstappen as well as Felipe Massa at Sakhir.

The Venezuelan has failed to reach the chequered flag in all four races thus far—retiring in Australia, Malaysia and China before finishing a lap down due to engine troubles in Bahrain—and, tellingly, has the indignity of being the only driver other than the McLaren-Honda and Manor pairings yet to score a point.

His currency, it appears, is lower than ever.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus crashes at the second corner during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Which is particularly unfortunate when you consider that Lotus' currency is seemingly higher than it has been for some time.

According to Parkes of Autosport, the team's "accounts for the year ending 2014 are expected to show a gross profit for the first time in many years, with turnover up by around a third" and a net loss of "just under £6 million" compared to a £64 million loss for 2013, which would represent the team operating close to "an even financial keel" once again.

It would also be a bittersweet development for Maldonado, whose PDVSA funds will no doubt be crucial to any financial turnaround at Lotus, but whose place would potentially come under threat if the team found themselves in a stronger position.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 07:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus walks along the pit lane during previews to the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 7, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Maldonado, after all, only secured a Lotus seat at the end of 2013 when—as reported by the Telegraph's Tom Cary at the time—it became clear the team couldn't risk their long-term future by signing the highly-rated Nico Hulkenberg, who provides little sponsorship money.

If, therefore, Lotus achieved some financial stability, the team would presumably be given more freedom when it comes to their driver lineup and be less inclined to sacrifice performance for mere preservation, which would suddenly leave Maldonado extremely vulnerable.

Lotus' Matthew Carter.
Lotus' Matthew Carter.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Indeed, Lotus CEO Matthew Carter, the man behind the team's recovery, has suggested the Venezuelan, despite being cocooned by all those bank notes, cannot expect to be immune from the exit, telling Parkes

They (PDVSA) are a good sponsor, and while our latest figures stack up, they stack up contingent on PDVSA being involved within the team.

At the moment they are part and parcel of what makes up our budget, so we're not looking to change.

But then no driver is in a position where they cannot be dropped.

They're only as good as their previous performances, and ultimately Pastor proves himself on the track.

It is appropriate that Carter's comments should come on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix, the scene of Maldonado's greatest afternoon; his solitary race win, in 2012.

After a debut season spent doing much of what he's doing now—crashing into anything and everything, making a nuisance of himself—it was at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya where Maldonado came of age, resisting the threat of, and considerable pressure exerted by, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

It should have been his breakthrough moment. It should have been a turning point in his career. It should have been the day he truly arrived in F1.

But it proved to be little more than a fleeting visit.

Three years on, Maldonado has explained how his single grand prix victory has taken on a different meaning against the backdrop of his drastic downturn in form, which has seen him score points just five times in the 58 races since Spain 2012.

With victory at Barcelona, Maldonado became the first driver to win for Williams since 2004.
With victory at Barcelona, Maldonado became the first driver to win for Williams since 2004.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The 30-year-old told Lotus' official website: "That weekend shows why you must never give up in Formula One...My mentality changed and this now drives me forward when times are tough."

If he can put those lessons into practice and stay out of trouble in Spain, Maldonado might finally prove his worth to Lotus this weekend.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.