Pastor Maldonado has secured his first Formula 1 victory and ended Williams’ eight-year winning drought with a sensational victory at what will rank as one of the best Spanish Grands Prix to be held at the Circuit de Catalunya.
But it was also a dramatic day for the Grove squad, with the post-race celebrations marred by a huge fire that engulfed their pit garages, which saw several team figures (including those from rival outfits who rushed over to help put out the fire) taken to hospital.
Maldonado’s win continues this year’s pattern of a different driver and constructor combination winning at each of the opening events of the season, marking the first time since 1983 that this has occurred. Coincidentally, it was the fifth round of that year – the United States Grand Prix at Detroit – where Johnny Cecotto, the only other Venezuelan driver to have earned a points’ finish, claimed his best-ever finish with sixth place.
After inheriting pole position courtesy of Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying (more on that later), Maldonado was unable to keep the fast-starting Fernando Alonso from claiming the lead on the 700-metre run into Turn 1.
The Spanish crowd was thrilled with Alonso’s early lead, but behind him there was some drama: Sergio Pérez’s excellent qualifying effort went belly-up when he was tagged by Romain Grosjean in the opening corners, resulting in a puncture for the Mexican. Further along the lap, Charles Pic had a sudden snap spin at Turn 3, but quickly recovered his Marussia and got going at the rear of the field.
With Alonso and Maldonado making three pit stops apiece during the 66-lap race, the pair raced in close company and never more than a few seconds apart. As their second pit stops approached, it was Maldonado who peeled into the pits first, catching Ferrari by surprise. Alonso was held up by Pic as he tried to lap him, and the delay gave Maldonado a lead he would never relinquish.
Despite a hard charge, Alonso never got close enough to mount an attempt to overtake the Venezuelan. The race became set for a grandstand finish when Kimi Räikkönen began to hone in on the pair in the closing laps, having recovered from a slow start and a poor strategy call from the Lotus team to keep him on the soft-compound Pirelli tyres when he made his first pit stop.
Up at the front, Maldonado was able to contain Alonso and even opened up to enjoy a small lead in the closing laps, while Räikkönen closed inexorably on Alonso, ultimately running out of enough laps to challenge Alonso for second place.
The Finn’s team-mate Romain Grosjean finished fourth with another solid performance, while Kamui Kobayashi produced one of his best drives in the past year to secure fifth place with a performance that featured some ballsy overtaking moves on Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel bagged sixth place in his Red Bull with an impressive drive that deserved more: the German was left frustrated by having to change his front win and copping a drive-through penalty for failing to respect waved yellow flags during the race. The defending champion overtook Nico Rosberg on the penultimate lap, after driving an impressive 24-lap final stint on the softer Pirelli tyres.
Rosberg limped across the line with shot tyres to finish seventh, just managing to hold off Lewis Hamilton for the spot, with the McLaren driver proving he can actually manage tyre wear on a two-stop strategy.
Completing the points were Jenson Button and Nico Hülkenberg, with the latter managing to fend off the attacks of Mark Webber in the closing laps of the race. Webber had a fraught race, suffering the same front wing issue as his team-mate, but he was unable to keep pace in the race and finished frustratingly out of the points.
The Australian was followed over the line by the two Toro Rossos of Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, with the former being the subject of much post-race Twitter and web forum speculation when TV footage appeared to indicate that the Frenchman was running both compounds simultaneously, which is a clear breach of the rules. Pirelli has since denied that this occurred, but the pictures appear to indicate otherwise…
The race saw one other dramatic moment, that being a collision between Bruno Senna and Michael Schumacher on the thirteenth lap at Turn 1. Trying to find a way by the Brazilian after making his first pit stop, Schumacher hit the back of Senna’s Williams as the pair braked for the right-hander, leading to the retirement of both. Schumacher was later found guilty of causing the collision when the FIA Stewards investigated the incident, handing the German a five-place grid penalty for the next Grand Prix, at Monaco.
Maldonado’s win was an historic and emotional occasion for the entire pit lane, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would begrudge the driver and team a fine and well-deserved victory, particularly on account of the week also marking the 70th birthday of team founder Sir Frank Williams.
His win was well-judged and hard-fought, and will have gone a long way to counter the perception that Maldonado was little more than a well-heeled and very erratic pay driver.
His win was ultimately vindication for the major restructure that the team has undergone in the last six months, which has included the departure of team CEO Adam Parr and technical director Sam Michael (who went to McLaren, and haven’t they had an ordinary season of late?).
In turn, its new technical operation is headed by former McLaren designer Mike Coughlan, who has kept a decidedly low profile since his return to the sport after his exile for his role in the 2007 ‘Spygate’ saga. The result is a great vindication for the Englishman’s skills as one of the sport’s top designers.
The pit bay fire – the cause of which is still yet to be determined – was a sad end to a great weekend for Williams and Formula 1 in general. The FIA would later confirm that 31 people would be given medical treatment, with several personnel hospitalised for smoke inhalation, and one Williams team member suffering serious burns to his legs in the fire.
And while circuit officials and local fire crews should be roundly criticised for their lack of action, full credit must be given to the members of rival teams who ran down the pit lane with fire extinguishers to help put out the fire.
Even Maldonado pitched in with the rescue effort, piggy-backing his 12-year-old cousin (who was recovering from a recent broken leg) out of the garages and to safety.
2012 Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (66 laps):
|1.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||66||1:39:09.145|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||66||+ 3.195|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||66||+ 3.884|
|4.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||66||+ 14.799|
|5.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||66||+ 1:04.641|
|6.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||66||+ 1:07.576|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||66||+ 1:17.919|
|8.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||66||+ 1:18.140|
|9.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||66||+ 1:25.246|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||65||1 lap behind|
|11.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||65||1 lap behind|
|12.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||65||1 lap behind|
|13.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||65||1 lap behind|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||65||1 lap behind|
|15.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||65||1 lap behind|
|16.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||65||1 lap behind|
|17.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||65||1 lap behind|
|18.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||64||2 laps behind|
|19.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||63||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||37||Transmission|
|DNF.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||35||Transmission|
|DNF.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||22||Wheel nut|
|DNF.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||12||Collision|
|DNF.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||12||Collision|
|Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:26.250|