Maldonado joins Grosjean at Lotus F1 team

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Lotus confirmed the signing of Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado on Friday in a move that will trigger a domino effect on the Formula One driver market.

The British-based team said in a statement that the well-funded Maldonado, who has spent the last three years at Williams, would partner Frenchman Romain Grosjean in their 2014 line-up.

He replaces 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who is returning to Ferrari.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for me to join Lotus F1 Team for 2014," said Maldonado, who raced for Lotus principal Eric Boullier's DAMS team in the 2005 World Series by Renault championship.

"It's no secret that I have wanted a change of scene to help push on with my Formula One career and Lotus F1 Team offered the very best opportunity for me to be competitive next season.

"The regulations and cars will change significantly so it is a very good time for a fresh start. I can't wait to be racing in black and gold."

Maldonado's departure from Williams had been announced earlier in the month by the under-performing former champions, who have signed Brazilian Felipe Massa from Ferrari to partner Finland's Valtteri Bottas.

The Venezuelan's next move had been keenly watched, with Force India and Sauber waiting to see where he ended up before making their own decisions.

Lotus had said Germany's highly-rated Nico Hulkenberg, currently with Sauber, was their top choice to replace Raikkonen but that depended on them securing new investors.

The team had announced in June the sale of a 35 percent stake to a consortium that included an Abu Dhabi-based multinational group, but they later recognised the deal had not been completed.

They have been waiting since then for the deal to be concluded and money to arrive, despite regular assurances that it was imminent.

Maldonado's arrival, with the Venezuelan expected to bring substantial support from his country's state oil company PDVSA, suggested the team had given up waiting for promises to materialise.

Boullier said Grosjean had shown his talents this season while former GP2 winner and 2012 Spanish Grand Prix winner Maldonado had proven pace and potential despite scoring just one point this year.

"We are convinced that we will be able to provide the correct environment to enable him to flourish regularly on track," said the Frenchman.

"With Romain and Pastor I believe Lotus F1 Team will be able to cause quite a few surprises next year."

Hulkenberg is now expected to join Force India in what could be a new line-up with Mexican Sergio Perez, who has lost his McLaren seat.

That could see Germany's Adrian Sutil moving from Force India to Sauber, with current team mate Paul Di Resta of Britain set to miss out. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

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