After Maldonado gave Sir Frank Williams the perfect birthday 70th present, the celebrations began – but were short-lived. TOM WILKINSON reports on all the drama from the Spanish Grand Prix.
PASTOR Maldonado gave Sir Frank Williams the perfect 70th birthday present by putting the Williams F1 Team on the top step of the podium for the first time since 2004, claiming his maiden Formula 1 victory in the process after an excellent drive, but the team’s celebrations were marred by a fire in the team’s garage which left several people injured.
As the Williams team celebrated its historic win, a fire, thought to have been caused by an electrical fault, broke out inside the Williams garage engulfing the area where so many people were. Thick acrid black smoke was seen billowing from the pit building as teams up and down the pit lane assisted in extinguishing the flames. The fire lasted approximately 15 minutes before the Spanish police closed off the area as they investigated the scene.
There were a number of casualties from the incident. An FIA statement released hours after the incident said: “Thirty-one team members were seen by the circuit medical centre and all have been released with the exception of seven who were transferred to a variety of local hospitals where they are receiving treatment”.
It was a sad and sombre end to a day which saw Formula 1 crown yet another new race winner and welcome a rejuvenated team back onto the top step of the podium.
Thrilling, exciting and dramatic are not words usually associated with the Spanish GP in Barcelona in recent years, but this year they certainly were!
The excitement came first on Saturday during an intense qualifying session. Traffic always proves to be a major problem around here and that caught many drivers out during their fast runs. In Q1 several of the top runners chose the soft tyre, the times this weekend looked so close and qualifying would be tight. Jenson Button was complaining of understeer from the word go, the McLaren running wide onto the marbles on occasions. But the Williams of Bruno Senna looked like a real handful as he man-handled it around the circuit on his final attempt. Sheer frustration got the better of him in the end, he spun it into the gravel at turn 13 and didn’t make Q2.
During the Q2 session the Lotus team and Toro Rosso too both opted to run late into the session. Mark Webber set a reasonable lap time. his engineer decided not to run him again in the session. Times quickly improved but it was too late for Mark. He didn’t make it into the shoot-out. Jenson Button and the two Force India’s also didn’t make the cut.
The start to Q3 was rather slow and dull, no one ran early. But when they did it was Pastor Maldonado for Williams who was the star of the show qualifying in second place alongside Lewis Hamilton. A brilliant performance from Pastor all weekend so far but the story wasn’t over. Hamilton was ordered to stop the car half way back to the pits in order to save enough fuel for the FIA inspection. However not returning back to the pits under your own steam after a qualifying session is deemed illegal and since this decision was taken in order to provide the minimum one litre fuel sample, it was treated by the FIA as a technical infringement. This means immediate exclusion from the results. Lewis Hamilton started the race from P24 on the grid, and Pastor Maldonado took his first ever Pole Position.
The race on Sunday brought some broken cloud cover, but no rain as some were predicting. But as the five lights went out Alonso took the lead from the Williams into turn one. It was a tight fight down to the first turn, the Ferrari almost on the grass at one point, but Alonso muscled through into the lead. Lewis Hamilton made reasonable progress at the start off the line as did Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel didn’t get the best of starts off the line in the Red Bull. But it was Sergio Perez who was in trouble after suffering a puncture after contact with the front wing of Romain Grosjean in the Lotus at the start of turn three. He limped back to the pit lane but lost a load of time in the Sauber. Mark Webber was trying to make progress and made a good move on the Force India of Paul Di Resta. Webber had a poor start and needed to make up ground after losing positions from the start.
The race began to settle down but after poor starts, Red Bull pitted early for fresh rubber. It was Mark Webber who pitted first for the harder tyre. Red Bull were hoping he would clear the much slower traffic ahead quickly. The following lap, Sebastian Vettel did the same. Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was doing a great job for McLaren, he was in 11th place after a move on Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India. A good start from Hamilton who started from the back. The same could not be said for Bruno Senna after he had a scrape with Romain Grosjean in turn one in lap 12. Senna was yet to pit and the older tyres didn’t have the pace or the grip. This left him under attack from Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes. Just one lap later, Michael smashed into the back of the Williams at turn one. Six times winner here was Michael Schumacher, but he collected only a DNF this year. Just a few turns later Senna also has to retire due to extensive damage at the rear of the car. It looked to be a clear misjudgement from the German, he just ploughed into the back of the Williams in the braking zone. Schumacher later blamed Senna for moving twice, the stewards didn’t take this view however and awarded him a five place grid penalty for Monaco.
Red Bull were having problems with the front wings on both cars. Front wing loading was the issue as the small winglets failed on both cars, meaning they had to be replaced. Webber pitted on lap 18 for his replacement and new tyres. Pastor Maldonado meanwhile was keeping the Ferrari ahead very honest, chasing down and catching Alonso. Sergio Perez was going ever faster after his earlier incident. Lewis Hamilton was still making ground through the field.
The Stewards were called into action and investigated incidents involving Vettel and Massa for yellow flag infringements. They were both later rewarded drive through penalties for ignoring yellow flags in turn one while the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher was being recovered. Neither driver lifted off sufficiently and was therefore too fast through the caution zone.
As the second round of pit stops took place, Maldonado had a clean, tidy stop. His out lap was blisteringly fast as he looked to get the jump on Alonso. But the Ferrari was caught up in traffic and behind the Marussia of Charles Pic for five corners before the Frenchman let Alonso through. Fernando was clearly annoyed and waved his hand furiously as he cruised passed the back marker at turn one. The Ferrari then pitted from the lead and had a good clean stop, but the fast pace of Maldonado coupled with Pic holding Alonso up meant that the Ferrari lost position and re-joined behind the Williams. Once the Lotus of Raikkonen pitted, Maldonado took the lead with Alonso in second.
The Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi was making good progress through the field as he made some good moves up the pack, including a brave and well calculated move on Jenson Button at turn five on lap 33. Just a few laps later Lewis Hamilton pitted for his second and final stop. It was a bold strategy from McLaren, but Lewis was making it work well with a good drive from the back. Red Bull had yet more problems with their new front wing however, Vettel this time having a replacement for the same problem as earlier.
As the final pit stops were made Pastor Maldonado still lead the race from Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari was catching the Williams very quickly, but Alonso just couldn’t get through, the pace of the Williams was brilliant. The two were so close at times, trading fast sector times, but eventually the tyres put pay to any challenge from Alonso as they started to degrade lap by lap. Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus was catching this pair, Alonso made a move past the flying Fin earlier on before Lotus decided to fit a fresh set of hard tyres. The fresh rubber just wasn’t enough for Raikkonen. Alonso had dropped back and Raikkonen wasn’t close enough to challenge, Maldonado was up front and cruising to victory.
After 66 laps of racing in Spain, Pastor Maldonado took the victory in the most fantastic way, his maiden win in Formula 1 and the first for Williams since Juan Pablo Montoya in Brazil 2004. The wonderful story of this 2012 season continues with five races down, five different winning drivers in five different teams. The Spanish Grand Prix delivered a brilliant race and a new F1 race winner and the first for a Venezuelan. Williams returned to winning ways after a long dry spell, a well-deserved victory.
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