Maldonado to Lotus? (2nd Update) UPDATE #2
This rumor is upgraded to 'strong today. Nico Hulkenberg looks set to miss out on the Lotus race seat for 2014.
|The disease that is so prevalent in open wheel racing has struck again. Pastor Maldonado has bought the Lotus ride|
Team boss Eric Boullier has admitted the German is his preferred choice to replace Kimi Raikkonen.
But, because Hulkenberg is basically unsponsored, an actual paid deal between the 26-year-old and the Enstone based team has been pending the sale of a 35 per cent stake in Lotus to a group of investors known as Quantum.
It seems the deal may have fallen over.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said Pastor Maldonado, whose lucrative Venezuelan backers PDVSA have been negotiating their exit from Williams, has leapt to the front of the queue to replace Raikkonen.
"Some say the deal is now done," said correspondent Michael Schmidt.
Schmidt said Williams, who would be compensated by PDVSA for ending the contract, is likely to replace Maldonado with Ferrari refugee Felipe Massa, who is said to be backed by the Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
It is believed Hulkenberg is unlikely to stay at Sauber next year, which could mean a return to Force India for the German, whose F1 career was rescued by the Silverstone based team after he lost his Williams seat in 2010.
Eddie Jordan, with a solid reputation for usually getting his stated predictions right, said earlier this month he is "certain" Hulkenberg will race a Force India in 2014.
However, team supremo Vijay Mallya threw a spanner in Jordan's theory this week when he named Hulkenberg as the "only driver" who has ever "expressed the desire to leave" Force India after just a single season.
"Other than that all the other drivers have always been very happy to stay," he told F1's official website.
Mallya said Force India will not name its 2014 driver lineup until December.10/28/13 Pastor Maldonado and his PDVSA backers are in the final stages of talks that will secure their exit from Williams, and clear the way for Felipe Massa's arrival.
After weeks of speculation about the future of the Venezuelan driver, who has endured a troubled time at Williams this year, high-level sources have revealed he will be racing elsewhere next season.
Although it is understood a deal to leave Williams has not yet been finalized, it is anticipated that matters will be resolved imminently to allow Maldonado to sign a contract elsewhere.
Maldonado has already held 2014 talks with Lotus, Sauber and Force India, with the £20 million per season backing of the oil company a major attraction.
His hopes of a Lotus deal rest on the team not pulling off an investment deal with Quantum Motorsports as that tie-up would provide the outfit with the financial means to secure its preferred option of Nico Hulkenberg.
The other teams are in no rush to finalize their plans, and are now awaiting confirmation from Maldonado that he is a free agent.
Although PDVSA's original five-year deal with Williams runs until the end of 2015, it is understood there will likely be an agreement reached to ensure the team is compensated for the change of plans. More at Autosport.com10/09/13 (GMM) He may have a longer contract, but Williams' Pastor Maldonado is on the move.
That is the claim on Wednesday of Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, reporting that the Venezuelan has made an approach to Lotus about replacing the Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen.
The patience of the 28-year-old, who brings millions to Williams in the form of his state-connected PDVSA sponsorship, has reportedly run out.
Maldonado is apparently desperate for a better car, but German correspondent Michael Schmidt said Williams can actually "rest easy".
"The contract with Maldonado's South American sponsors is watertight," he revealed, claiming Williams got the deal re-checked recently by a top lawyer in London.
Schmidt added that the PDVSA contract, worth about EUR 35 million to Williams every year, runs until 2015.
Nonetheless, Maldonado is quoted as saying: "This year I'm here. Next year I don't know where I'll be."