Hold on to your hats F1 fans, someone has had something positive to say about Pastor Maldonado.

The Venezuelan, often the number one target of criticism by those who are dismayed by the influence of ‘pay drivers’ in the sport, has also attracted much attention for the number of incidents he gets involved in.

However his former engineer at Williams, Xevi Pujolar, believed most will be surprised by the one-time Grand Prix winner describing him as “underestimated”.

Pujolar has had the privilege of working what he described as “great drivers” like Mark Webber and Ralf Schumacher, but he claims that working with them was “not the same” as working with Maldonado.

Speaking to Spain’s El Confidencial, Pujolar, who also left Williams over the winter to join Italian team Toro Rosso, compared Maldonado to another fiery South American driver he has worked with: “I have always said that Pastor and (Juan Pablo) Montoya are the drivers who impressed me most.

“Maybe it’s because they are great fighters,” he added. “Pastor has shown how fast he is but I think he is often underestimated.”

Now praise such as this will likely get laughed off by those for whom Maldonado really is enemy number one, particularly after gaining his new seat at Lotus ahead of the darling of the sport among fans Nico Hulkenberg, however I have long argued, though without much success, that perhaps there is more to Maldonado than meets the eye.

Yes he has his big money backers in PDVSA and yes that was key in him gaining the seat at Lotus, but something s lot of people often forget is some of the best drivers on the grid are also very well sponsored.

One of the biggest aspects to Fernando Alonso’s move to Ferrari in 2010 was the lure of Santander money while all four Red Bull drivers are in effect merely working for those who have backed them their entire career.

I also argue that in the case of Hulkenberg, who spent much of his time complaining about these well-backed drivers, if he was really such a good proposition then why aren’t companies flocking to sponsor him?

Of course I understand that in Germany gaining sponsorship is probably a lot harder than in a country where the number of top class racing drivers can be counted on one hand, but in modern F1 bringing money is almost as important as bringing talent and Hulkenberg’s decision to ignore that, I think, makes him a little naive.

However back to the case of Maldonado, I do believe he can surprise us in 2014 given Lotus give him a good car, he beat the best on the grid to win in Spain back in 2012 and racing at the front of the grid is often much different to racing near the back.

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