top of page

Pastor Maldonado: A Venezuelan Perspective on a Failed Formula 1 Career

Written by Isabel Brito, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Pastor Maldonado is a former Formula One driver, having previously raced across Venezuelan karting, Formula Renault, Italian F3000, Formula Renault 3.5, GP2 series on his way to F1. Although, his time in Formula One hasn’t been the smoothest, only taking one victory, one pole position and amassing 76 points across five seasons. People usually speak of 13 as an unlucky number, and with Pastor Maldonado racing under that number, he was just as unlucky.

The Venezuelan’s career in Formula One started in 2011 with the Williams F1 Team, replacing Force India-bound Nico Hülkenberg. At that point, his career was more than merely being a pay-driver. The government-owned oil company PDVSA funded most, if not all of his racing career. However, Maldonado’s career hit problems from the outset, transmission issues preventing the Venezuelan from finishing the race. This would be a pattern for the rest of his season, his race pace tailing off after strong qualifying sessions. Maldonado eventually ended the season nineteenth in the standings.

Pastor Maldonado started the 2012 season with Williams F1 Team, seemingly on the right foot. His superb qualifying pace meant he was in great position for the race, potentially capable of multiple podium finishes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Finishing thirteenth and nineteenth in the first two races of the season, followed by a retirement in the fourth race, meant the Venezuelan driver had low expectations. However, at the Spanish Grand Prix, this wasn’t the case. Qualifying saw him finish a lofty second, taking pole position after pole-sitter Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying due to low fuel in his McLaren. The Venezuelan took the advantage on race day, and his confidence seemed to thrive, as he held off a charging Fernando Alonso to take his first career win in Formula One. With this, he also became the first Venezuelan driver to take a win in Formula One.

However, things spiraled downhill from there. He drove another season in a Williams, before filling the big boots of the departing Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus for two seasons, after accusing Williams of sabotage. Regardless, while his team changed, his results remained the same. If anything, they became worse. A total of 16 retirements and eight top ten finishes summed up his career, without taking into account the controversies throughout his career.

Maldonado’s funding came to an end, as PDVSA didn’t, and still doesn’t have the money to fund such an expensive sport. They even funded the Venezuelan driver with money they didn’t have, just to keep his racing career going, but with poor results comes less funding. Maldonado tried negotiating his way back into Formula One, but was unsuccessful. More likely than not, he was turned down not only for his poor race pace, but for how politically controversial Maldonado is off track. He considers himself a socialist, and supporter of what is extremely publicly known as a corrupt government.

In 2015, as he attempted to continue in the sport, Venezuela was going through the hardest political period, with protests daily, classified documents and information coming to light, and accusations going towards anyone related or linked to the government. This didn’t look good for Pastor Maldonado, as he was friends with the deceased 2013 president. It is a belief that no team would take a driver with such heavy political controversies on his back, knowing the consequences of their actions.

In the end, not everyone is cut out to be a Formula One driver, and Pastor Maldonado was that case, beyond his suspicious funding and political beliefs, he wasn’t a terrible driver. I believe he lacked support from the team, the confidence, and the preparation to be a driver of such caliber. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be hard to explain why he thrived in all categories before and after Formula One. It also has to be taken into consideration that Williams hasn’t been a top team for over a decade, and that their car development wasn’t exactly the best during the time. Unfortunately, for various different factors, Pastor’s potential wasn’t fully utilised. It would even be bold to say, his situation resembles that of Nico Hulkenberg, only that Maldonado was able to do what Nico always wanted to.

Pastor Maldonado might not be the best Formula One driver, or the best human being, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good driver again. In reality, he has shown a great potential in endurance racing up until 2019, but hasn’t been in any other series since. A return to Formula One can’t be ruled out, but he may not consider the option. Besides, it wouldn’t be the best marketing move for any team. Pastor, just like Nico, had endless chances to be prepared for a Formula One car and wasn’t. He had the sources and means to make his career worthwhile, but the focus was more on fixing crashed cars than actually developing him as a driver. Regardless, his chances came to an end, and so did his Formula One career.

1 comment

1 Comment

Apr 05, 2023

He wasn't the best driver in F1 or the best human being - thats brutal !

Given that probably 85% of the current grid haven't won races and most or all are selfish, egotistical humans with dubious funding behind them then he is in pretty good company except that he has won a race and I suspect on that score if we carry on the comparison to Hulkenberg from your article, Maldonado will always rank higher than him and many many others. Given he achieved it with his 5 seasons in often far from frontrunning machinery, I think to call his career a failure is a little strong. He had a style and it was hardcharging and no compromise but…

bottom of page