Maldonado fires Williams to the top: Spanish GP analysis

By on Monday, May 14, 2012

Pastor Maldonado, for Williams F1 Team, leaves the Circuit de Catalunya having taken pole position and followed it up with the victory.

Would you like that statement repeated? After all the guessing in pre-season testing, several observers noted that Williams had taken a step forward after their dismal 2011 season, during which they took a mere five points.

Yet surely nobody could have expected that Pastor Maldonado would keep his cool under immense pressure from Fernando Alonso and take a maiden victory. After all, you could have got odds of 300-1 at him winning; congratulations to anyone who decided to take a gamble.

The story of the race began shortly before 7.30pm on Saturday when the stewards decided that McLaren had no leg to stand on after Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying problem. Lewis was sent to the back, perhaps harshly, elevating Maldonado to pole position.

The start was frantic, ruining the afternoon of several drivers. Sergio Perez picked up a puncture after contact with Romain Grosjean while Mark Webber bogged down and dropped to fifteenth. Webber suffered from a lack of front downforce throughout the first stint, had to change his front wing and ultimately finished outside of the points.

Schumacher hit Senna and receives a 5 place grid drop for Monaco

The opening stint was a game of chess between Alonso and Maldonado; the gap never more than a couple of seconds while Raikkonen dropped back. The pit stops threw the field into disarray and saw the first major incident of the day. A struggling Bruno Senna had been passed by several rivals but was defending admirably from Michael Schumacher. Schumacher eventually lost patience, misjudged his braking and crashed into the back of Senna at the first corner. Both blamed the other, but the majority of punters placed the blame firmly with the German. After all, few could have sympathy with Schumacher being the victim of a driver moving under braking.

Both drivers were out. Schumacher labelled Senna an ‘idiot’, while the Brazilian limped to Turn 6 before giving up. Despite the debris approaching Turn 1, the Safety Car was not used and racing continued pretty much across the field.

A combination of a brilliant out-lap from Maldonado and Charles Pic getting in the way of Alonso on his in-lap meant that the Williams leapt ahead of the Ferrari at the second round of pit stops. The gap edged out to seven seconds before Alonso narrowed the gap. Williams suffered from a slow stop next time round meaning that Alonso was now just a couple of seconds behind. Alonso dragged the F2012 into the DRS a couple of times and it looked as if Maldonado would succumb to the pressure. Astonishingly he didn’t and pulled out a lead to win by three seconds.

Kimi Raikkonen’s late stop meant he began to catch the leaders at a rapid rate and eventually finished six tenths behind Alonso. Lotus was expecting that Maldonado and Alonso would need to pit again, or at the very least, suffer from extremely high drop-off.

Romain Grosjean survived a couple of scrapes to finish a credible fourth, ahead of Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was his usually opportunist self, passing Jenson Button into Turn 5 – that relied on the Brit moving out of the way to avoid heavier contact – and lunging up the inside of Nico Rosberg into Turn 10.

Lewis ran over a wheel during his stop. Photo credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

For the first time in what must be a long time, Red Bull and McLaren failed to finish in the top five in what was a dismal day for 2011’s top two teams. Sebastian Vettel was fortunate to avoid the debris from the Schumacher-Senna collision, but picked up a drive through penalty – his first in almost two years – for failing to slow for yellow flags. The penalty perhaps seemed a little extreme, but an extra visit to the pit lane was now necessary. Vettel also required a front wing change at his final stop in what was a head scratching race for the reigning champions. Although Vettel put in a late charge to sixth, Mark Webber was lapped and outside the points. Webber lost several positions in one lap after complaining of front end problems and then couldn’t find a way past Nico Hulkenberg. Lewis Hamilton fought admirably from the back of the grid considering he failed to make significant gains at the start; the Brit had to take evasive action after Sergio Perez’s stricken Sauber swerved back on track. Hamilton eventually finished eighth, which included a bold overtaking move on both Toro Rosso drivers through Turn 3, finishing it off at Turn 5. Jenson Button could manage only ninth after a weekend in which he complained of ‘massive understeer’. It was another disappointing weekend for the 2009 champion; that win in Australia must feel like a long time ago.

Felipe Massa made his way into the top 10 but incurred a drive through penalty for the same feat that befell Vettel, eventually finishing fifteenth. Sergio Perez made it back after his puncture, but had to park his Sauber C31 on the sides after a botched pit stop.

There was more drama in the pits after the race as a large fire erupted in the Williams garage. Fortunately the pit garage was evacuated swiftly, although F1 is likely to have a detailed safety review to ensure such an event does not occur again. Thirty-one people were seen by the medical centre, with seven transferred to hospital. The fire marred what was a brilliant result for a team who managed just five points last season. For a man who had never finished higher than eighth in Formula One, Maldonado drove with a confidence and precision that belied his erratic reputation and his relative inexperience in the sport. It was sixty-six laps of near-perfection as he ended Williams’s eight year win drought, a result that was met with universal delight in the pit lane. Lewis Hamilton immediately went to congratulate Sir Frank Williams, while former drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello expressed their pleasure via social media websites.

With Monaco up next, the chance of a repeat result for Pastor may be higher than you think…

Maldonado joins Button, Alonso, Rosberg and Vettel as 2012 winners

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