Maldonado ends Williams drought in Barcelona
13 May 2012 – Extending the remarkable start to the 2012 season, Pastor Maldonado has triumphed for Williams in the Spanish Grand Prix. He becomes the first Venezuelan to win in F1 history, having held off the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso as Kimi Räikkönen completed the podium for Lotus. The result marks Williams’ first victory since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix and five winning teams from as many races this year.
Neutral Formula 1 fans could not have dreamed of such a start to the campaign, with any solid predictions for winners remaining impossible. At half past seven on Saturday night, Lewis Hamilton was disqualified as not enough fuel remained in his car for an FIA sample; this left Maldonado on a career-first pole position. Rain containing sand then hit Barcelona over night, threatening for a dusty off-line track today.
Under overcast skies but with rain holding off, the European season began with Alonso doing exactly what he had done in Barcelona last year – leading the race by the first corner, much to the delight of the Spanish crowd and despite a strong defence from Maldonado. Behind, Sergio Pérez was tagged by Romain Grosjean at Turn 3, resulting in a left-rear puncture and unscheduled pit-stop for the Sauber. Further back in the pack, the third corner was also the scene of a spin for Marussia’s Charles Pic.
Each making three stops, Alonso and Maldonado began their race-long duel with the Spaniard heading the pack; both sustained a strong pace, with the latter jumping ahead by pitting one lap earlier for his second stop. On the third visit to the pits, Williams made a small error but the 2010 GP2 Champion was still able to hold his advantage, then having to defend as Alonso moved in and out of DRS range. Following Grosjean’s final stop, the Frenchman dropped to fourth and released team-mate Räikkönen who doggedly zeroed in on the pair of leaders; the Finn was just sixth tenths of a second behind Alonso by the time the chequered flag fell.
Elsewhere in the race, Michael Schumacher was initially furious after slamming into the back of Bruno Senna’s Williams at the first corner. The seven-time World Champion, who last won in Spain eight years ago, appeared to dramatically misjudge his braking point when attempting to pass the Brazilian, who had been yet to pit and was running with significantly lower levels of grip; as Schumacher ended his race in the gravel trap, Senna was forced to stop with a puncture. Both men blamed one another.
A solid drive for Kamui Kobayashi included forceful moves on Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg to bag a top five result in the closing stages; also making ground in the final third of the race was Sebastian Vettel, managing to overhaul Rosberg and prevent losing his now shared championship lead. The World Champion's day was hindered by a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags; a punishment also taken by Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Both Red Bulls took on new front wings during the race, but Mark Webber was worst off and sunk back into the pack; despite his efforts, he could not steal the final point off Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India.
Bitterly disappointed to lose pole yesterday, Hamilton fought in determined fashion to rise to as high as fourth place from the very back of the field, prior to his first stop. Later in the race, despite hitting an errant wheel when leaving a pit-stop, he would begin to suffer for adhesion but was still able to beat team-mate Button; his charge ended in eighth position, just metres behind Rosberg’s Mercedes. Joining Schumacher and Senna on the sidelines were Narain Karthikeyan and the aforementioned Pic, as well as Pérez who suffered a loose wheel after a pit-stop and was forced to pull over.
Before today, the best F1 finish for a Venezuelan had been sixth place for Johnny Cecotto, driving for Theodore in the 1983 Grand Prix of Long Beach. As Alonso’s tyres went off the cliff in the closing minutes, the winning margin extended to 3.1 seconds which comfortably allowed for Williams’ 114th Grand Prix victory; an ideal way to end the celebration weekend of Sir Frank’s 70th birthday. 27-year-old Maldonado is now ninth in the drivers’ standings, with his team moving up to joint fifth position with Mercedes-Benz. The fight for the 2012 titles is still wide open.
The dramatic and unpredictable 2012 Formula 1 season continues on the legendary Monte Carlo street circuit in a fortnight’s time