May 17 (GMM/Inautonews.com) Last Sunday proved that Pastor Maldonado is no mere ‘pay driver’.

“If he was a fool, he would not be with us, no matter how much money he brings,” Sir Frank Williams is quoted by Brazil’s Globo Esporte.

Venezuelan Maldonado, whose links to the state owned oil company PDVSA and president Hugo Chavez controversially deliver many millions to Williams’ Oxfordshire based team, became F1’s fifth different winner of 2012 last weekend in Spain.

It has helped him to shake off the ‘pay driver’ insult, Williams insisting he is now a potential world champion instead.

“Without a doubt. He is very fast and makes no mistakes,” the newly 70-year-old Briton said.

Williams does, however, acknowledge that Maldonado’s money was a key factor in the decision to sign him.

“Yes, it was to some extent,” he said. “I don’t deny that. But he’s also a real driver. He fully deserves to be on the team, with or without money.

“The truth is that if you don’t have money, you don’t get to be in formula one,” added Williams.

Team shareholder Toto Wolff agrees: “If you want to race in GP2, you need a few million pounds. So, the drivers need not only to be fast and talented, but able to attract the sponsors.

“So let’s forget this thing about ‘pay drivers’,” he insisted.

Triple world champion Nelson Piquet, however, has some lingering doubts.

He ran Maldonado in his own GP2 team some years ago, and this week recalled a driver who was often “too aggressive” and made too many mistakes.

“We’re not talking about a guy who shone in his youth, like Nico Rosberg,” said the famous Brazilian, “or someone like Lewis Hamilton, who always had everything he needed thanks to Ron Dennis.

“In GP2, when you don’t stand out in your second year, you begin to be doubted. In Maldonado’s case, he only shone in his fourth year.

“Perhaps because of this he only made it to formula one as a paying driver, without having anything special, apparently. He was perceived as just a good pilot, but clearly no Alonso.

“Now he was at the right place at the right time but he still managed to beat Alonso in Spain as well as another world champion, Kimi (Raikkonen). So hats off to him.”