No one would have put money on five different winners, from five different teams, in the first five races of 2012. But that’s exactly what has happened after Pastor Maldonado took a sensational victory in the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona.
Williams hasn’t won since Brazil in 2004, however, a world-class performance from the Venezuelan has turned the fortunes of the team around. After its disastrous season in 2011 it looks as though Williams is finally back on track.
The big news on Saturday was that Hamilton, after putting his car on pole, was demoted to the back of the grid. The Brit was told to pull over by his team on his slowing down lap and it soon emerged that the McLaren didn’t have enough fuel in it to get back to the pits with a litre left – the amount needed by the FIA for the mandatory fuel test. Some, quite rightly, were questioning why this should carry such a big penalty, suggesting that a drop to tenth would have been sufficient.
However, Hamilton’s pain was Maldonado’s gain as he was promoted to pole and Alonso, who was driving a much-improved Ferrari, lined up alongside him in second.
When the lights went out both cars made a good start, but despite Maldonado pressuring Alonso into the first corner, the Spaniard – in front of his home crowd – took the lead. The crowd went wild and it looked like Alonso would start to dominate after pulling out a 1.3-second lead within a lap. Maldonado, though, was keeping calm and held the gap. There would be no Australian Grand Prix last-lap nightmare today…
It wasn’t until the second stops that Williams went for the undercut. Alonso pitted a lap later than Maldonado on lap 27, but by the time he emerged from the pits the Venezuelan had posted the fastest lap of the race and had passed the pit exit. It was a lead he would hold – bar the third and final stop – until the end of the race.
It was by no means a straightforward run to the flag though. The Williams made its third stop at the end of lap 41 leaving 25 laps to complete on the same set of tyres. Alonso pitted three laps later and many expected him to pass Maldonado in the closing stages, but the Venezuelan stayed in control until the flag dropped on lap 66, with Alonso having actually dropped off the back of the Williams.
Despite starting from the back of the grid Hamilton managed to climb through the field, pulling off some fantastic passes in the process, and ran as high as fifth. But his plan to stop just twice meant that by the end of the race he dropped back to eighth. A superb effort, especially when you consider that Button – who had started in 10th – finished ninth. “I’m proud of myself and proud of the team,” Hamilton said after the race.
It seems unfortunate that so far this year Hamilton has made very few mistakes and hasn’t failed to qualify on the front row yet. But in the last three races the team has made mistakes in the pit stops and with the amount of fuel needed in Q3 in Spain. No doubt he’ll be back on the podium soon.
Another major incident in the race happened on lap 13 when Schumacher was trying to pass Bruno Senna into Turn 1. The Mercedes driver slammed straight into the back of the Williams, taking them both out of the race. Schumacher argued that the Williams moved right, and then back to the left in the braking zone. Meanwhile Senna blamed his worn tyres and Schumacher not realising how early he was having to brake. Either way, it’s another incident in Schumacher’s worst ever start to a Grand Prix season.
Whatever else happened on track at the Spanish Grand Prix it will forever be remembered as the day that Williams took their first victory for eight years. Frank Williams was there celebrating his 70th birthday with his family and what better present than seeing his team get back to winning ways.
“It’s a wonderful day, not just for me but for the whole team,” said Maldonado afterwards. Quite right and I don’t think anyone will mind if we say, from everyone at Motor Sport, a huge congratulations to everyone at Williams and Pastor Maldonado.