Maldonado set for Lotus switch to replace Raikkonen
Pastor Maldonado is expected to sign for Lotus this week and fire up the drivers’ market for the final places on the grid for the 2014 Formula One season.
This became clear in the aftermath of Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix when the moody Venezuelan, who is leaving Williams, admitted that he was in advanced talks with Lotus and Sauber.
According to seasoned observers in the paddock, negotiations between Maldonado and Lotus intensified at Interlagos because the team conceded that it could no longer wait to complete a long-promised investment deal with the Quantum Motorsports consortium.
Maldonado has sponsorship estimated to be worth more than €35 million (Dh173.6m) that he can offer to his next team.
He said: “We are quite close. We have been working very hard since many months ago and now we are just waiting for confirmation – all the stuff that you need to do with contracts. But until you sign you never know. I prefer to sign and to be 100 per cent sure before we make any announcement.”
Maldonado will replace Kimi Raikkonen who is leaving the team, under somewhat of a cloud due to a pay dispute, to join Ferrari.
If Maldonado is confirmed, he is expected to partner Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who is likely to retain his seat after an impressive second half to the 2013 season.
That, in turn, will mean there is no room at Lotus for German Nico Hulkenberg, the hottest property in the market in terms of talent and tipped to join Ferrari in 2015.
He is expected to switch to Force India where his likely team-mate in an all-new line-up for 2014 may be Mexican Sergio Perez, who will leave McLaren after one year, but with his own sponsorship package to offer a new team.
That would mean German Adrian Sutil leaving Force India, probably for Sauber to partner either current incumbent Mexican Esteban Gutierrez or Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin, who may be used as a reserve driver.
All this would also leave Marussia and Caterham with the only remaining vacancies and plenty of time to consider their options.