NOVEMBER 26, 2013
Maldonado triggers final silly season dominoes
The final pieces of the 2014 grid are now set to fall into place.
With the possible - albeit unlikely - exception of Caterham and Marussia, the only team with full driver stability heading into next season will be Mercedes.
Top teams Ferrari and McLaren, however, have already decided their 2014 lineups, leaving Lotus, Force India and Sauber with the most interesting remaining seats to fill.
Until now, despite Nico Hulkenberg's talent, Pastor Maldonado has held the key to unlocking those vacancies, thanks to his EUR 40 million in PDVSA backing.
He has been in talks with Sauber, whose financial struggles in 2013 have been well documented, but ultimately the Swiss team has missed out on the crucial millions.
With Sauber's Sergey Sirotkin-linked Russian rescue deal now in doubt, the Maldonado blow could be costly. Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said co-owners Peter Sauber and Monisha Kaltenborn may have to sell the Hinwil based team.
"Plan C is a sale, and reputable investors from the USA are said to be interested," said the report.
In the end, the similarly-struggling Lotus has also had to acknowledge that its Quantum money may never arrive, and so it has reportedly signed Maldonado.
An announcement of the Venezuelan's contract is said to be imminent.
"I think we are now coming to a final agreement," Maldonado is quoted by Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo, without naming his likely 2014 team.
A Quantum-cashed Lotus would ideally have picked Hulkenberg, but the talented German has been left to decide between staying at Sauber, or returning to Force India.
His decision will be made "in the next two or three days," manager Werner Heinz is quoted by SID news agency.
But paddock insiders know better. Hulkenberg apparently signed his Force India deal on Sunday, ahead of the Brazilian grand prix.
Heinz hinted at the done deal. "His (Hulkenberg's) heart is at Sauber, but we don't know what their financial situation will look like next year.
"In all probability we will sign at Force India. It's too dangerous when you don't know if Sauber is going to have the sponsors it needs," he said.
On the other hand, the main backer at Force India is Dr Vijay Mallya, and he is "a rich man who invests in the team again and again," Heinz is quoted by Der Spiegel.
It is believed Sauber will replace Hulkenberg with Adrian Sutil, making room at Force India for the McLaren refugee Sergio Perez, who has reunited with Telmex and reportedly has EUR 15 million to offer in sponsorship.
"Obviously it (Force India) is one of the options," the Mexican said. "I hope in the next few days we are going to have some news."
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