Formula1: Maldonado wins Spanish GP thriller

Reuters, Monday 14 May 2012

Pastor Maldonado took his first Formula One victory

Williams Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela celebrates on the podium after his victory in the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, near Barcelona (Photo: Reuters)

Pastor Maldonado won a Spanish Grand Prix thriller on Sunday to take his first Formula One victory and hand former champions Williams their first triumph in 132 races and nearly eight years.

The celebrations at the Circuit de Catalunya were short-lived, however, with the team's garage gutted by fire after the race and Venezuelan Maldonado carrying his 12-year-old cousin to safety in a smoke-filled pitlane.

Team founder and principal Frank Williams, in a wheelchair, was pushed hurriedly from the garage to safety as thick, acrid smoke billowed over the paddock.

Nine people from three teams who had battled the flames were taken to the circuit medical centre, mostly suffering from smoke inhalation.

The first driver from his country to stand on the F1 podium, let alone win, Maldonado became the fifth different winner from five races this season won by five different teams - a phenomenon only ever seen before in 1983.

A 300-1 outsider before the weekend, Maldonado delivered Williams' first win since Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya in Brazil in October 2004.

The result was an astonishing transformation for a once-dominant team who scored just five points last year in their worst ever season.

"Very good job, guys," was all the winner said over the radio as his team mates erupted in celebrations but Maldonado made up for it on the podium as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen lifted him on their shoulders. 

"This is great for Venezuela after nearly 30 years without any driver in Formula One," said Maldonado.

"I think it's a wonderful day, not just for me but for all the team. We have been pushing so hard since last year to try to improve race by race and here we are. Yesterday we were here after a great qualifying and today we did it again."


The pole had fallen into his lap after Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid on Saturday because McLaren put too little fuel in his car for qualifying, and the former GP2 champion grabbed his chance with both hands.

Spain's double champion Alonso finished second, 3.1 seconds behind, to move level with Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel on points at the top of championship.

Finland's 2007 champion Raikkonen was a disappointed third, taking the chequered flag 3.8 seconds behind Maldonado after just running out of laps in a spirited chase for a possible victory.

Vettel, who finished sixth, and Alonso each have 61 points, with Hamilton on 53. Red Bull lead the constructors' standings with 109 points to McLaren's 98 with Lotus third on 84.

It was the 114th win for Williams, nine times constructors' champions whose last title was in 1997 with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve.  

It also came the day after Formula One gave Frank Williams a belated 70th birthday party.

The Circuit de Catalunya, the most predictable on the calendar until the arrival of moveable rear wings (DRS) and the Pirelli tyres, served up a cliffhanger.

Alonso seized the lead at the start to the delight of the home crowd but that was just the opening salvo in a long afternoon full of thrills and overtaking.

While Hamilton showed off all his talents by carving his way through the field from last place on the grid to eighth, the battle at the front was on a knife-edge right to the very end.

With 10 laps to go there was less than a second between Maldonado and Alonso while Raikkonen was taking huge chunks out of their lead lap by lap.

Maldonado's team mate Bruno Senna was less fortunate than the Venezuelan victor, retiring on track after just 13 laps when Michael Schumacher ploughed his Mercedes into the back of the Williams in a shower of debris.

The seven-times world champion, three years into his comeback but still without a podium place, branded the Brazilian an 'idiot' over the team radio but stewards ruled it was Schumacher's fault and gave him a five-place penalty for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Vettel joined the list of unhappy Germans after he and Ferrari's Felipe Massa, again completely eclipsed by his team mate, collected drive-through penalties for failing to slow for yellow warning flags.

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