Pastor Maldonado became the sixth GP2 Series champion at Monza on Sunday, adding his name to the likes of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock in winning the Formula 1 feeder series.
It was the Venezuelan's fourth year in the series, but showed considerable improvement in 2010 over those previous years. He had only taken four wins over the three previous years, despite driving for competitive teams, but has taken six wins this season, all of them coming in consecutive feature races.
Having finished sixth in the standings in 2009, driving for ART Grand Prix, for whom rookie teammate Nico Hulkenberg won the series in dominant fashion, Maldonado moved to Rapax for this season. Maldonado had driven for the team in 2008, when it was known as Piquet Sports. The Italian team underwent major changes over the off-season, including a change of name. As one of only a few second-year drivers, Maldonado began the season as one of the favourites, particularly after setting the pace in pre-season testing.
His season-proper started quietly, taking a sixth-place finish in the opening race at Barcelona, having qualified ninth, as rookie Charles Pic won. Maldonado started and finished third in the sprint race, but failed to get the better of teammate Luiz Razia, who started and finished just ahead of him.
Maldonado went to Monaco as the favourite for a victory – he won there in both 2007 and 2009. He was beaten to the feature race win by Sergio Perez, who would become Maldonado's biggest rival for the season. He then finished down in 11th in the sprint race, having jumped the start and been punished with a drive-through penalty.
Maldonado took his first win of the season at the next race in Istanbul, also finishing sixth in the sprint race as Perez endured a pointless weekend. Maldonado therefore took the series lead of the Mexican, who slipped to fourth. He then won the feature race in Valencia and finished fourth in the sprint, with Perez failing to score once again.
He duplicated his Valencia results at Silverstone, although Perez began to emerge as a contender with a sprint race victory. Maldonado took another feature race win at Hockenheim, but eliminated himself from the sprint race in a collision with series returnee Romain Grosjean. Perez won another sprint race, having finished second to Maldonado on the Saturday.
Maldonado continued to set series records by claiming a fifth straight feature race victory in Hungary, but was black-flagged from the sprint race after ignoring black and orange flags after breaking his front wing. He went to Spa with a chance of claiming the title early and won a sixth consecutive feature race as Perez finished down in seventh. Maldonado was forced to retire early on the sprint race though, as rival Perez took a victory to keep his slim hopes alive.
Maldonado went to Monza with a 27 point lead over Perez, and could have won the title by outscoring his rival in the feature race. However, he endured a tough qualifying, and then ruined his feature race record when he vaulted over the back of Grosjean's car at the first chicane. Perez was then dramatically eliminated from the race. This meant that Maldonado would win the title if Perez could not win the sprint race and also set the fastest lap. He had to retire again when he went off at Parabolica, but Perez could only finish 13th, handing Maldonado the title.
After his championship win, Maldonado attributed his upturn in performances to his team. “For sure the difference this year is the team: they are a completely strong team, we work well together and
it’s a compact team, and that’s made the difference, especially at the beginning in the winter test. When I saw them working like that, I was so confident for the victory.”
Looking to the future, Maldonado is aiming at a Formula 1 seat. He is well backed by Venezuelan companies, particularly by oil company PDVSA. Adrian Campos was evaluating him for a drive with his team prior to it becoming Hispania, and said that Pastor had “20,000 companies” who wanted to support him. At that time, most would have said he could only get an F1 drive on money alone, but in winning GP2, Maldonado has now shown he has the talent too.
“For sure [winning the GP2 title] will make it better for Formula One,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting for the next month, because we are pushing very hard, even my country, and it helps a lot to make a good chance in Formula One: I think I can do very well there, and we are concentrating on getting a good team to do my best, and the title is important, to go there with the title: it says a lot.”
This year he has been heavily-linked with a drive at the under-funded Sauber team, but the 25-year-old says he has nothing lined up just yet. “Not at the moment, but we are working in that way for the last two or three months, and were concentrating on the championship here. We haven’t got anything yet, but we have talked to a lot of team and we have a lot of interest, and now I will look more at getting the best seat I can find for me for the future.”