Venezuela may have been the birthplace to only three previous Formula One drivers (Johnny Cecotto, Ettore Chimeri and Ernesto Viso), but the sports newest recruit from the South American country, Pastor Maldonado, has taken a pretty standard route into F1 racing. By seven, Maldonado was already racing karts competitively in Venezuelas junior championships.
It helped that his father and uncles were just as passionate about motorsport as he was. Plus, there was a kart track just five minutes from his home in the city of Maracay. And he began to shine almost immediately, claiming four regional and three national championships before he was 14.
In 1998 he raced in Europe for the first time, competing in international kart races, but in 2000 he journeyed across the Atlantic again to compete in the Renault Winter series, eventually taking the title. He made a more permanent move to Europe in 2003 to contest the Italian Formula Renault Series. Three podiums and a pole position saw him finish the year in seventh.
A second season in the same series allowed him to hone his racing skills and he took eight wins and the championship. He also competed in the even more competitive European Formula Renault V.6 Series and finished the year eighth with two wins. His success garnered attention in Formula One circles, with Minardi allowing him to test with them over the winter.
Keen to extend his racing experience, Maldonado embarked on a slightly disjointed 2005 season, racing in four rounds of Italys F3000 championship and nine in the Spanish World Series by Renault. He finished the two championships in ninth and seventh respectively. It was a difficult time for Maldonado, but made him determined to bounce back stronger.
And the next season proved much more rewarding, with third overall in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series after three wins and six podiums. It was enough to secure him a seat in GP2 for 2007 with Trident. Although he took an impressive victory in Monaco, a fractured collarbone (sustained during training) saw him stuck on the bench for the four final rounds. He ended the season 11th in the series.
After spending the winter resting, Maldonado returned to GP2 in 2008 with the Piquet team. He took another win that year and five further podiums, finishing fifth with 60 points. He was sixth in the championship in 2009 in his third GP2 season. This time he was driving for ART and won two races, in Monaco and Silverstone.
Despite his successes, a Formula One seat remained elusive, so he decided to stick with GP2 for a fourth year in 2010. He swapped teams again - this time to Rappax - and the move paid off handsomely as he clinched the title with six wins two further podiums and a lead of 16 points in the standings. He also broke a record, becoming the only driver to have won six successive feature races in a single season.
The next logical step was Formula One racing, and he was a man in demand during the post-season winter tests in Abu Dhabi, making appearances for both HRT and Williams. His wealth of experience - and productivity at the test - saw Williams offer him their second race seat alongside Rubens Barrichello for 2011.
I just want to do my best, to be as close to the top as I can and to get the maximum out of the car, he said. The team are working very hard and I need to push to be at the top as soon as possible. I am a rookie but that isnt going to be a problem. I need to keep focused and to do my job.
Maldonado thus became the first Venezuelan in almost 30 years to make it to the Formula One grid. Chimeri retired from his one showing at the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix and Viso competed in just a single practice session for Midland in 2006. Cecotto participated in 18 Grands Prix for Theodore and Toleman during the 1983 and '84 seasons, scoring a solitary world championship point for sixth place at the 1983 United States (Long Beach) Grand Prix.
Maldonado was hoping for much more in the Williams FW33, but it wasn't to be. The car was far from competitive and the team endured the worst season in their history. Despite some strong qualifying performances, Maldonado came away with a single point for tenth place in Belgium, though he did at least retain his seat for 2012.
With a new technical team and the addition of Renault engines, Williams were in much better shape in 2012 and Maldonado took full advantage, proving his speed by consistently qualifying in the top ten. The high point of the year was undoubtedly his impeccable drive to victory from pole position in Spain, where he held off the charge of Ferraris Fernando Alonso. The Venezuelan struggled to reach those heights again however, regularly getting involved in on-track clashes and ending up in the stewards' room when he could have been scoring points.