11th, 14th, DNF, DNF, 14th, DNF, 13th, 19th, 8th, DNF. That’s Pastor Maldonado’s ten results previous to the Spanish Grand Prix of 2012.
With that in mind, who can blame Williams for arriving at the Circuit de Catalunya, just outside of Barcelona without great expectations for the weekend.
But it was to prove memorable in more ways than one.
Sunshine lit the track for qualifying, and from early in the first session, it was obvious that Williams’ prospects for the day could be equally as bright.
Lewis Hamilton was the early pace-setter, but Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, in his second season in F1, capitalised on upgrades made to his Williams FW34 ahead of F1’s ‘European season’ combined with a more robust Pirelli tyre to top the session and stroll into Q2.
The second knockout phase of qualifying allowed Maldonado to again show the pace of the FW34, finishing with the quickest time in a session that saw championship contenders Jenson Button (McLaren) and Mark Webber (Red Bull) eliminated.
In the final part of qualifying, first home-favourite Alonso, then Raikkonen, Maldonado and finally Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest lap time before the ten minute session was over, and Maldonado could go to sleep that balmy Spanish night delighted with his day’s work, looking forward to a front row start the next – his first in Formula 1.
Maldonado’s second place was more remarkable considering his team-mate Bruno Senna could only qualify a miserable 18th.
After qualifying, it was whispered that pole-sitter Hamilton was being investigated for not having enough fuel in his car to provide the FIA with a sample for testing.
Following his pole-lap he’d been instructed by his McLaren team to stop immediately, presumably to try and conserve enough fuel for the required 1-litre sample. But it was in vain, and as per the regulations, it was confirmed that Lewis Hamilton would indeed start from the very back of the grid, promoting Williams driver Pastor Maldonado to pole position!!
But he’ll be swamped at the start we all said. He’s never led a race and so he won’t be able to cope with the pressure that Alonso, Vettel et al will inevitably subject him to we all said. The Williams won’t go to the finish we all said. How wrong we all were!
At the start the Williams and its Renault R27 struggled cope with the sheer grunt of the Ferrari of Alonso off the line, and the Spaniard wrestled the lead from Maldonado on the long stretch down to the first corner with the two Enstone cars (they’re not and never were Lotus to me!) of Raikkonen and Grosjean close behind.
The Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber pitted early, relieving the pressure on those at the front somewhat, at least for the time being, as the front three of Alonso, Maldonado and Raikkonen pulled out a healthy lead on fourth placed Grosjean.
A top three finish was looking good for Pastor if he could hold it all together.
On lap 25 Williams called in their driver for his second stop, two laps ahead of leader Alonso. A quick pitstop, followed by a blistering out-lap meant that by the time the spaniard re-emerged from the pits two laps later, Maldonado was ahead.
Alonso pursued Maldonado for the next 15 or so laps, until, when pitting for the third and final time, the Venezuelan suffered a slight delay with his left-rear wheel costing him a handful of valuable seconds. Was this Alonso’s chance?
Not this time. Despite catching Maldonado, the Williams driver had nurtured his tyres since bolting them to his Williams, and he was now able to use them to great effect in defending from Alonso until the Ferrari’s tyres were shorn of any life and he had to back off, settling for second and 18 points to add to his championship tally rather than chancing his hand and leaving his home Grand Prix with a big fat zero.
Maldonado crossed the finishing line three seconds ahead of Alonso in second place to take his first win, his first podium, his first top six finish and the team’s best result since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Maldonado was F1’s fifth winner in the five opening races of 2012, and boy, was he in illustrious company: The other four were or later became World Champion (Button, Alonso, Rosberg & Vettel).
If the Williams Team thought they were dreaming, the dream soon turned into some sort of night terror when, 90 minutes after the race, the Williams garage was engulfed in flames.
During a routine fuel inspection it’s thought that static from Bruno Senna’s Williams FW34‘s KERS ignited fuel that was pooled beneath the car.
The resulting blaze caused 31 people to be hospitalised with burns, thankfully none of them seriously.
If anyone thought that such a stand-out team/driver performance was a portent of success in the near future to enjoy, then sadly, they were mistaken.
DNF, 13th, 12th, 16th, 15th, 13th, DNF, 11th, DNF, 8th. That’s Pastor Maldonado’s next ten results following the Spanish Grand Prix of 2012.
To date, the Spanish Grand Prix of 2012 is Williams Racing’s last Grand Prix win.