Pastor Maldonado, who was recently announced as a Williams F1 driver for the 2011 season, has been looking back over his career, and discussing how he will approach his first year at the pinnacle of motor sport.
The Venezuelan came from a motor racing family and, as he explains, he began at an early age. “Having competed themselves, my father and my uncle are very passionate about motorsport, so I inherited it from them,” said Maldonado. “In my city of Maracay, there is a go kart circuit about five minutes from my home. When I was about three or four years old I said I wanted to race but I was too young, then when I reached the age of seven my father gave me a kart and we started from there. From that moment until now we have never stopped.
After karting in Venezuela, I came to Europe in 1998 to compete in international kart races, which was great for me to get experience racing outside my country. After consistently being at the top, I decided to move to Italian Formula Renault. I won the championship in my second year. We made the jump to GP2 in 2007 but I only did half a season as I had an injury. We came back in 2008 and finished fifth in the championship, just six points adrift of the leader in a very close championship.”
This season, of course, Maldonado took the GP2 championship with relative ease, and feels that his time in the series has prepared him for his assault on F1.
“It was an incredible season,” he said. “We were competitive from the beginning and went on to win six races. The team worked well together to achieve victory and by the middle of the season I already had a good gap and took the title at Monza.
“GP2 is a very good championship; it really prepares drivers well for F1. I have worked very hard to get to this position and yes, I definitely feel ready.”
Looking ahead to his debut season in F1, Maldonado feels privileged to be joining Williams, and to have the most experienced driver in the history of the sport – Rubens Barrichello – as his team-mate.
“Williams do an amazing job,” said the Venezuelan. “It is unbelievable to be here and to be part of the team. It is a dream.”
“For sure Rubens is a pleasure to have as a teammate as he is a very experienced driver. I can learn so much from him. It will be fun as he is South American too! I think it is going to be a very interesting team.”
Maldonado has less than two months before his first taste of the FW33, Williams challenger for 2011. He will spent these in the simulator, and also in training, to prepare his body for the rigours of F1. He had a day in the FW32 last month at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver test, an experience he found very valuable – and enjoyable.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was a big moment for me because only days before I had been driving a GP2 car and there are some big differences. I improved lap after lap and completed the programme so it was a very good experience for me.”
As for those differences between GP2 and F1 cars, Maldonado highlights three: “The first is the difference in engine power; the F1 car has amazing power and a higher top speed. Secondly, the braking point; the brakes are a lot harder in F1. Finally there is much more downforce and general grip.”
Maldonado follows in the footsteps of Johnny Cecotto and Ettore Chimeri on a very short list of Venezuelan F1 drivers, which is significant to the 25-year-old: “It has been nearly 30 years since Venezuela has had a driver in Formula One so the country has been pushing young drivers in the hope of having someone represent them. I am happy to now be that driver.”
So, what are Maldonado’s hopes and aspirations for his opening season in F1?
“I just want to do my best, to be as close to the top as I can and to get the maximum out of the car,” he said. “The team are working very hard and I need to push to be at the top as soon as possible. I am a rookie but that isn't going to be a problem. I need to keep focussed and to do my job.”