Pastor Maldonado became the first Venezuelan ever to triumph at motorsport’s highest pinnacle yesterday as he silenced his critics with a stunning win at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The 27 Year-old absorbed relentless pressure from 2005/2006 World Champion Fernando Alonso to hand his Williams team their first victory in eight years and the first for the Williams-Renault combination since 1997.
After lining up a superb 2nd on the grid, Maldonado was promoted to pole following the exclusion of Britain’s Lewis Hamilton from the qualifying results after his car was found to be carrying insufficient fuel according to the rules of the FIA, the sport’s governing body. This also shifted home favourite Fernando Alonso to 2nd on the starting lineup to the delight of his fanatical fans who had travelled from across the Iberian Peninsula to cheer him on.
Somewhat predictably, Alonso made a fantastic getaway to snatch the lead of the race into the first corner, whilst Kimi Raikkonen outdragged Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean down the long start/finish straight, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa also gaining ground from their start positions. Although Alonso had the lead, he was unable to shake the impressive Maldonado who hung on to the back of the Ferrari, never staying more than seven seconds from the lead car. When Alonso pitted for a fresh set of tyres it seemed the slick work of his Ferrari pit crew had done enough to get him back out ahead of the Williams, but the Venezuelan charger had other ideas and pushed hard to exit his pitstop in front of the bemused Spaniard. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton had focused on a 2-stop strategy contrary to those around him, and climbed as high as 4th before slipping back when he made his stops for fresh rubber.
Felipe Massa made the best start of the race and went from 17th to 10th, but was unable once again to sustain his race pace and became mired in the pack, likewise Mark Webber who made an unscheduled stop for a new nosecone after slowing dramatically halfway through the race. This ultimately cost the Australian any chance of decent points, and World Champion team mate Vettel was pitted for a precautionary nosecone change shortly after. Both the German and Brazilian Massa received drive through penalties for ignoring yellow flags following a catastrophic collision between Williams’ Bruno Senna and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. The 7-time World Champion misjudged his braking into the fast entry for turn one, and ploughed into the back of the unfortunate Senna as the pair battled over 12th place. Senna was on worn tyres, but the blame ultimately fell at Schumacher’s door and he has received a 5-place grid penalty for the Monaco Grand Prix as a consequence.
Up front, Maldonado quickly built a sustainable gap to the ever feisty Alonso whilst Raikkonen and Grosjean held a watching brief in 3rd and 4th places, at this stage running their own race cut off from the interference of any other cars. Nico Rosberg was also having a so far uneventful afternoon as he held 5th solidly after the demise of Schumacher. Sergio Perez became the victim of a loose wheel nut as a botched pitstop saw his mechanics falling over each other in the pitlane, the Mexican who had done so well to qualify 5th, now a retiree through no fault of his own. Similarly Hamilton was lucky to escape without incident as his car was catapulted into the air in the pitlane after hitting a tyre that had just been removed from his car as he left his pit box. Mclaren’s pitstop woes continue.
This didn’t stop the 2008 title holder mounting an impressive 30 lap run on the usually short-lived Pirelli rubber that saw him vault team mate Button, Sebastian Vettel and Kamui Kobayashi, and the Briton’s rubber was in good enough shape for him to launch an attack on a struggling Nico Rosberg in the closing laps.
Maldonado controlled the pace after his third and final stop as Alonso menaced him for the lead. 2011-spec Pastor maybe would have crumbled under the onslaught of the Spanish matador; 2012-spec Pastor did no such thing. Allowing Alonso within a second of him at times, the Williams man confounded those who thought he had pitted too early on his final stop, needing to run four laps longer than the Ferrari in 2nd to make it to the end of the race. The Venezuelan was inch-perfect as Alonso closed in, then suddenly fell backwards with 7 laps to go as his Ferrari ate up its delicate tyres. Maldonado was in the clear. Or was he? Kimi Raikkonen, playing the long game, had pitted later than the two leaders and made great use of his new Pirelli’s to start taking huge chunks of time out of Alonso in 2nd. The Finn had left it too late though. After an hour and a half of intense racing, and a 62-year wait, Venezuela had its first Formula One winner as the triumphant Pastor Maldonado swept across the finish line to deliver the best 70th birthday present team owner Frank Williams could have wished for. Alonso held on to take an equally important 2nd, overcoming Ferrari’s recent disasters and claiming joint lead of the title chase with the dogged Sebastian Vettel, who managed to overwhelm both Hamilton and Button in the closing laps to take what could prove to be a vital 6th place. Raikkonen was 3rd ahead of Grosjean who had a quiet race but nevertheless took a substantial points haul for the Enstone based Lotus outfit. Kobayashi crept across the line in 5th for his best ever Formula One result whilst Rosberg stayed ahead in 7th of the struggling Mclarens of Button and Hamilton. This capped a disastrous weekend for the Woking team who had high hopes of securing victory. Nico Hulkenberg drove a steady race to claim the final point on offer for Force India.
‘Following our disappointments yesterday, today was always going to be about recovery.’ said Mclaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh after the race. ‘Even so, Jenson will be disappointed: he struggled with balance and grip all afternoon, and won’t be satisfied with the brace of world championship points that his ninth place delivered him. Lewis, having started in 24th and last place following his qualifying penalty yesterday, drove an absolutely storming race to eighth place at the chequered flag.’ Felipe Massa too had reason to be upset; after an incredible opening lap the downcast Brazilian ended the race a dejected 15th. ‘My race was affected by a penalty that I had to take on lap 28. Honestly, I don’t think I did anything wrong and I believe it is better to look into the detail of what happened, because I was in the middle of a group of cars and I definitely did not try to overtake anyone. It’s a real shame, because up until then, the race was going well for me and a place in the top ten was comfortably within my reach.’ said the 2008 runner-up to the F1 website in the paddock afterwards.
Perhaps the final words of the day should go the race winner though. The man once hailed as a ‘walking disaster’, the man who was only in F1 ‘because of his money.’ ‘It’s an unbelievable feeling winning my first race. The car felt really consistent, was fantastic to drive and our pace was strong throughout. The team has worked so hard all year and this win is for them. To be the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race is a big honour and hopefully I will win more races in the future.’
Monaco lies ahead. And Maldonado was pretty fast there last year…