Maldonado: We are not far off McLaren and Red Bull

From the depths of 2011, Williams is now ‘not far’ from the pace of F1’s strongest teams according to Pastor Maldonado, who in the newly Renault-powered and Mike Coughlan-designed FW34 qualified eighth and was pushing Fernando Alonso for fifth in the race when he crashed out of Sunday’s season opener in Melbourne on the last lap.

It indicated a major turnaround for the formerly championship-winning team that collapsed to a dismal ninth place in last year’s points standings. Venezuelan Maldonado hopes last Sunday was indeed the start of a Williams resurgence.

He said this weekend in Malaysia “should be interesting”.

“McLaren and Red Bull look strong, but we are not far away,” he is quoted by Finland’s Turun Sanomat. “We were very close to (Red Bull’s) Mark Webber in the first and second stints.

“I think we are faster than Ferrari, Sauber and Force India.”

Maldonado’s last-lap crash in Australia cost Williams a full ten points – double the team’s tally of the entire 2011 season.

“We need points in the future,” he acknowledged, “but we are also now more relaxed now.”