Love him or hate him, Pastor Maldonado left no one indifferent during his five-year spell in Formula 1. Valentin Khorounzhiy evaluates the F1 career of a man who made his mark in the sport.

By: Valentin Khorounzhiy, Editorial Assistant

Love him or hate him, Pastor Maldonado left no one indifferent during his five-year spell in Formula 1. Valentin Khorounzhiy evaluates the F1 career of a man who made his mark in the sport.

It is probably fair to say that even the biggest connoisseurs of Formula 1's driver market history will be hard-pressed to think of a change more popular than Renault's recent last-second decision to hire Kevin Magnussen in place of Pastor Maldonado.

Part of why that move has been so well received is, of course, the public perception of Magnussen, a driver who most will agree has been hard done by in his previous F1 stint and who still has plenty to offer in the sport.

Yet the fans' positivity towards the Dane gets massively overshadowed by the glee, the open expressions of euphoria over Maldonado being kicked out.

For many F1 drivers, losing a seat means the end of their careers in the category, and Maldonado, despite his well-documented support from his government, could be no exception.

If the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was indeed the Venezuelan's final race, will he be remembered as a punchline – a hero for one grand prix and a spectacular joke for the 94 others he contested?

And is that the evaluation he will have deserved?

The villainous

Even Maldonado's staunchest supporters simply have to admit that, in the recent years, the Venezuelan has been, by far, the most unpopular driver on the grid. There have, perhaps, been drivers less-liked – but there have been none more disliked.

And it would be simply insulting for anyone to act incredulous as to why that has been the case, for the reasons have been numerous.

Maldonado's history of erratic driving, largely in wheel-to-wheel combat, has been well-documented. His name has long become synonymous with the stewards' room and with subsequent penalties – and while he, perhaps, has never been involved in crashes as spectacular as his erstwhile teammate Romain Grosjean, but he's certainly maximised the sheer numbers.

He's also never particularly cared to own up and take the blame for his infractions, which, to be fair, is true for pretty much every driver on the grid, except that none of the others have had to defend themselves on quite as many occasions.

Maldonado, however, has also sometimes opted to play the victim of perceptions and confirmation bias - and while he has been in fact the victim of horrifically unfunny nicknames and terrible jokes, it's a lot harder to suggest, within any reasonable doubt, that the stewards have been in on the Maldonado roasting this whole time.

He's a pay driver – not just that, he's basically the face of the modern pay driver. For the last few years, his backers paid a lot to ensure his place on the grid, as other drivers struggled to break into the sport.

And his backers also just happen to be the government of a country that, despite its rather low levels of income inequality, has generally been perceived as rather poor – and is currently suffering economic turmoil tied to the fall of the very oil prices that have helped keep Maldonado in Formula 1.

The rapid

Maldonado is crash-prone. He is arrogant. But, by ordinary racing driver standards, he's brutally quick – and even by F1 standards, he's far from slow.

In every major junior series where Maldonado competed full-time – and even in a lot of the ones where he just made cameos – the Venezuelan banked race wins. In GP2, he won on his fourth start – and while it did take him until the fourth season to take the title, he did so in quite some style.

Spending his debut season in a distinctly uncompetitive Williams FW33, he was on course for the team's best finish of the year by far in Monaco, only to tangle with Lewis Hamilton – a collision for which the Briton, not Maldonado, would be penalised.

And while he would go on to have a completely unnecessary incident with Hamilton at Spa, one he deserved much more than a five-place grid drop for, his pace quite encouraging for a rookie – and by the end of the year he was a regular match for Rubens Barrichello.

2012, of course, was marked by that Spanish Grand Prix win which, while helped by Hamilton's qualifying exclusion,was still earned by a sublime Sunday performance against an in-form Fernando Alonso.

For the rest of the season, however, the Venezuelan would throw away great qualifying performances with mistake after mistake, albeit he was harshly denied chances of further podiums with mechanical issues in Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

The erratic

At no point since would Maldonado end up driving a car as good as the FW34, and at no point would he be nearly as good as on May 13, 2012.

He was frequently outperformed by debutant Valtteri Bottas the year after, and did himself no favours by having a public falling out with Williams. And then, having joined Lotus, he got Grosjean as a teammate, the Frenchman proceeding to completely obliterate Maldonado's reputation as a qualifying expert.

It was a lack of evident progress, perhaps, that seems most disappointing than anything else. The crashing never subsided compared to his early years, and, in fact, seemed to get worse as it went along.

The speed, meanwhile, never went away – but never really became something Maldonado could display with any consistency. In early 2015, he looked particularly limp next to Grosjean in qualifying and kept making mistakes in the races, and while both of those aspects were improved on quite a bit in the latter half of the season, it was arguably too little, well too late.

If it were an argument of merit, not sponsorship, would Maldonado have any chance of holding on to a Renault seat over a Magnussen – or over a wildcard like Stoffel Vandoorne or Jean-Eric Vergne? No. Of course not. He's had his chance and, over the past three years, has found himself outperformed more often than not.

But is Maldonado, grand prix winner Maldonado, anywhere the worst driver on the grid, and anywhere near as poor as all the dreadful jokes and angry ramblings made him out to be?

He isn't even close.

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