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Williams end tie-up with major sponsor PDVSA

Williams Formula One acting team principal Claire Williams speaks to an unidentified man (L) during the second practice session of the Chine
Williams Formula One acting team principal Claire Williams speaks to an unidentified man (L) during the second practice session of the Chine

By Alan Baldwin

GROVE, England (Reuters) - Williams will end their tie-up with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA at the close of the Formula One season after Pastor Maldonado's departure from the team, deputy principal Claire Williams said on Monday.

"It (the branding) won't be on the car for next year," she told Reuters at the presentation of Brazilian Felipe Massa, currently with Ferrari, as Maldonado's replacement on a multi-year deal.

"There is no (further) connection with PDVSA as obviously Pastor is now leaving the team."

Maldonado has been backed by the oil giant throughout his career and his sponsorship millions have been eagerly sought by other teams. Williams said the driver had taken the decision to look elsewhere.

"We wish him well in that new challenge and we have to see where he ends up next year, but the Williams team won't have a connection to Venezuela next year," she said.

Maldonado has been linked to Lotus, who have been waiting for months to secure promised new investment from a consortium whose money has been slow in coming through, as well as cash-strapped Sauber and Force India.

The PDVSA sponsorship deal was with Williams, rather than a specific driver, and still had another two years to run.

The Venezuelan money made up a significant part of the Williams budget but sources indicated the team will be sheltered from any immediate impact by highly favorable severance terms.

"I think when our numbers come out next year, people will see what has actually gone on behind the scenes with this whole arrangement," said Claire Williams.

Williams indicated Brazil, with its fast-growing economy, could provide future backers. Massa is the country's sole driver and no longer in the number two role he had at Ferrari.

"I think Brazil is one of the sport's biggest markets, so it's really up to us to go out and commercialize Felipe as our driver," she said.

"We've been operating and looking for sponsorship in the Brazilian market for a long time now, we've had great Brazilian partners in the past. So we will be going out to Brazil to see what we can do out there."

Former champions Williams have a long-standing connection with Brazil, dating back to the days when triple champion Nelson Piquet was with them.

Other Brazilians to have raced for Williams include the late great Ayrton Senna, who died in one of their cars in 1994, and Rubens Barrichello. Bruno Senna, Ayrton's nephew, and Antonio Pizzonia also raced for the team.

"I hope we can bring some important companies to Williams from Brazil, I think Brazil is in a good moment and Williams has everything to give a good image," Massa told Reuters. "So it would be nice to have some Brazilian sponsors as well."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Robert Woodward)

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