LONDON (Reuters) - Pastor Maldonado, the only Venezuelan to win a grand prix but also one of Formula One’s most incident-prone drivers, will be absent from the 2016 starting grid after losing his place at Renault-owned Lotus.
“Today, with the utmost humility, I tell you that I will not be on the Formula One starting grid for the 2016 season,” Maldonado told his 710,000 followers in a lengthy statement on his Twitter account.
“Thanks for all your messages of support, passion and concern about my future.”
The 30-year-old’s seat looks set to be taken by Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen, the 23-year-old who made his debut with McLaren in 2014 only to spend last year on the sidelines.
Media reports said Magnussen had signed a contract with Renault after problems with Maldonado’s sponsorship.
The Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has backed the driver throughout his F1 career to the tune of tens of millions of dollars but has been hit by the plunging price of oil and domestic economic woes.
Renault, who acquired Lotus in December, are due to present their team and plans for the future at a news conference in Paris on Wednesday. The season starts in Australia on March 20.
With British rookie Jolyon Palmer signed as the other driver, Maldonado would have been the team’s most experienced driver following the departure of Frenchman Romain Grosjean to the new Haas team.
The Venezuelan’s position had been shrouded in uncertainty for months, however, as the South American country plunged deeper into economic recession.
Annual inflation is at almost 150 percent, according to latest figures, and there are shortages of basic goods.
The late president Hugo Chavez, who sought to boost Venezuela’s international image through sporting success, was one of Maldonado’s big supporters and the driver reciprocated by winning the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix for Williams.
That remains his only success and for many fans he will be better known as ‘Crashtor’, a driver who despite his undeniable speed and roguish grin picked up penalty points like others collect trophies.
Analysis by the F1fanatic.co.uk website showed that Maldonado, who started out with Williams in 2011, incurred twice as many penalties as any other driver over his 95 race career in Formula One.
Social media reveled in his run-ins with hashtags to highlight them. The hasmaldonadocrashedtoday.com site, which acquired a loyal following for its regular updates, switched to a sad face on Monday.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Williams and Pritha Sarkar