F1: Maldonado Is Still The Key In A Complex Driver Market

of Venezuela and Williams drives during the final practice session prior to qualifying for the Brazilian F1 GP. (Photo: Getty Images)

A string of driver announcements can be expected this week as the pieces finally fall into place after weeks of uncertainty – with Pastor Maldonado likely to be the first.

The Interlagos paddock was a hive of activity as driver managers went from team to team and mixed messages emerged about how things will ultimately unfold.

The key to everything remains Maldonado, who in essence has had to make a straight choice between and Sauber. His father and manager Nicolas Todt were seen in meetings with both Eric Boullier and Monisha Kaltenborn on Sunday, and both teams told third parties that they believed Maldonado was coming to them. The consensus is that by Sunday evening he had finally opted to go with .

The decision has been complicated by the financial situations in both camps. Maldonado’s backers have long favored Lotus, given the team’s 2013 form, but inevitably there have been concerns that any money would be used to pay back owners Genii, who have made huge loans to the team. If that happened any fresh investment would have little impact on the operating costs in 2014. In effect PVDSA wants their funding source dedicated towards Maldonado’s car.

Genii bosses Eric Lux and Gerard Lopez are clearly keen to recoup some of the money they have pumped into the team, and that remains a complication going forward, especially if – as most observers anticipate – the Quantum investment deal finally falls through.

If Maldonado is formally confirmed in the next couple of days then the pieces will fall into place at both Force India and Sauber.

Force India’s position has been complicated by the arrival on the scene of Sergio Perez. Inevitably the funding orchestrated on his behalf by Carlos Slim would be welcome at any team, and the Mexican has also proved his worth on the track in recent weeks. It’s believed that Ecclestone has also pushed hard for Perez to go to Force India.

The team already has contracts with Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg, making for a potential ‘three into two’ situation. However, Hulkenberg has enjoyed the possibility to not take up the deal, and it’s believed he had to make a final decision by the start of this week.

With Lotus off the radar his Plan B is to stay at Sauber. However, matters are complicated by the fact that his relationship with the team has been damaged by his efforts to go elsewhere – he recently visited Lotus for a seat fitting – and by his comments in the media.

If Force India does end up as Perez/Hulkenberg then Sutil’s clear alternative is Sauber. Indeed some sources suggest that he could in any case opt not to stay at Force India.

Assuming Maldonado isn’t there the identity of Sauber’s other driver could be the last piece of the puzzle to be filled in. Although Esteban Gutierrez has an ongoing contract, his position is far from secure. Sources say that the team has considered cutting its ties with Mexico, despite Gutierrez still having some useful backing.

One interesting rumour that emerged at the weekend involved Jules Bianchi going to Sauber – he does of course share his manager, Todt, with Maldonado. However Bianchi, Todt and the Marussia management all denied that there was any possibility of a change of plans.

Paul Di Resta’s manager kept tabs on the developing situation in Brazil but the Scot does not have any obvious F1 options at this stage, and looks set to return to the DTM.