Maldonado reigns in Spain
Alonso made to settle for second after absorbing duel
Last Updated: 14/05/12 8:11am
Pastor Maldonado has claimed victory in Spain, rebuffing home favourite Fernando Alonso to secure Williams' first victory since 2004 and the first for a Venezuelan in F1's long history.
Maldonado has been regularly derided as a 'pay driver' since his entry into the elite of motor-racing but around the Circuit da Catalunya it was a demonstration of excellence which paid dividends as he defied Alonso to become the fifth victor in five races. 2012 is the year that just keeps on giving.
The novelty of his position was never apparent as Maldonado, true to his eerie calmness after inheriting pole position on Saturday night in the wake of Lewis Hamilton's demotion, kept his cool under intense pressure from Alonso in the closing stages.
Although the race never quite crackled with the barmy drama that has characterised the season so far, it remained a compelling and unpredictable spectacle throughout. So much for the theory that the familiarity of Barcelona would finally restore order to a campaign of chaos. How it can have done after a day when Williams, one year on from the worst campaign in their history, lapped a Red Bull and McLaren were left trailing by in excess of a minute?
Although pre-race wisdom had insisted that neither Maldonado nor Alonso would be able to retain their frontrunning positions, it was almost instantly evident that the Williams and Ferrari - at least in the hands of their lead drivers - were the fastest packages on view as the pair exclusively jousted for the lead from first corner to last.
Kimi Raikkonen's late charge saw him close to within three seconds of Alonso at the chequered flag but the Finn's subdued post-race demeanor told a telling story. On a track that was billed as providing the ultimate acid test to determine the season's pecking order, Williams and Ferrari - in a throwback to the early years of the century - held a clear advantage.
It might have been different had the Lotus elected the hard tyres rather than the softs at the first round of pit-stops or if Hamilton - outstanding in his defeat of Jenson Button for eighth place having started out from the back of the grid, fourteen places adrift of his McLaren team-mate - had not been fatally undermined by his team's latest misfortune, but it would be crass to suggest that Maldonado's victory was anything other than deserved. Or impressive.
Only once did the team buckle, when a sticky left-wheel nut - F1's version of an Achilles Heel this year, it would seem - at Maldonado's third and final stop saw his advantage halved, but otherwise theirs was a faultless performance. And against Alonso, whose excellence has been a rare model of consistency this year, it needed to be.
Having muscled his way into the lead past the Williams in heart-stopping fashion at the first corner, only the combination of a daringly-early stop from the Grove outfit, a delay behind the Marussia of Charles Pic and the fastest lap of the race from an inspired Maldonado, saw Alonso surrender the initiative. From then on, it was just a question of whether Maldonado could handle the pressure.
Yet he didn't put a wheel off line. Rarely can have a victory resulted in such a feast gluttonous feast of word-eating.
For the Williams team itself, it was a triumph which marked the end of a dark decline into the doldrums. "There have been many great reliefs of great cities in history at the last minute," reflected Sir Frank Williams. "And this was another of them. We really needed this win."
Behind Raikkonen and the relatively-anonymous Romain Grosjean, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi drove a typically-barnstorming race to fifth, while Sebastian Vettel, unhinged by a drive-through penalty for failing to slow whilst travelling past yellow flag and a problem with his RB8's front wing, clambered back into sixth courtesy of a late push past the two-stopping Hamilton and a innocuous Nico Rosberg.
On, then, to Monaco. With five races run and a quarter of the season elapsed, that's about the only certainty that can be attached to a season that remains an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle driven by a Pirelli.