It has been clear for some time that things are happening at Williams F1. And the word is that Claire Williams and CEO Mike O’Driscoll have been in Venezuela in recent days, discussing the team’s sponsorship deal with the oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). The deal, which is rumoured to be worth as much as $50 million a year, is now in the third year of a five year deal and things are not going very well. There was the one victory in 2012 in Spain but beyond that Maldonado has been pretty unsuccessful. He blames this on the team. The team, on the other hand, seems to be of the opinion that the Venezuelan driver can only win races when the stars are aligned in a most unusual fashion. There is no question that Pastor is quick, but he still does have a tendency to screw up too often. Money is not the issue. Despite the political problems since the death of President Hugo Chaves, PDVSA seems to be able and willing to fund Maldonado’s move to another team, but the contract with Williams is written in such a way as to force Venezuela to stop Pastor driving elsewhere without Williams being suitably compensated. Maldonado can move to another team if the Williams situation is sorted out and if he can find some who wants him. With money he is attractive. Without it, he is not.
Lotus are only really interested if the ongoing deal with Infinity Racing Partners (now Quantum) is not completed, in which case the team needs cash. If the Quantum money arrives, the Enstone team will choose Nico Hulkenberg as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement. He is being linked to Force India, but there is no explanation about why the German would consider this more attractive than Lotus.
From a Williams point of view the loss of Maldonado will mean that at least some money must be found from elsewhere. There is no shortage of space on the cars but results in recent years have been poor, despite the Spanish win, and the team is now strengthening its technical departments. If the replacement for Maldonado was Felipe Massa, then there is an additional asset to attract mew backers. Despite some rumours, Massa does not have much sponsorship behind him and is looking to see what can be done. There have been rumours for some time that Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) – a former Williams sponsor – wants to get back into F1 to back up its global expansion plans, but it only wants to get involved if it can make the fuel itself. There may be possible commercial deals on the back of that but Petrobras is not currently in a position to commit large sums of money to F1 sponsorship because it has unions striking for more money, although the dispute has been disguised as a protest against the state-run oil company auctioning some of its huge offshore oil fields.
Getting Massa into Williams would be a great idea for Formula 1 as the sport wants to have a Brazilian driver to keep up interest in the sport in South America.