Pastor Maldonado gave Williams its first F1 win since 2004 with a brilliantly judged victory in the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.
It was Maldonado’s first win in his 24th Grand Prix start and the first for a Venezuelan. He is the fifth winner and car combination in five Grands Prix, the first time that has happened since 1983.
“We are getting better race after race,” said Maldonado. “This is a dream for Venezuela and a great moment for our country.”
Maldonado started from pole position after Lewis Hamilton was demoted to the back of the grid due to a refuelling irregularity after he set pole position. He lost the lead at the start to Alonso, got it back by undercutting the Ferrari driver at the second stop and then held on to the flag. On slightly older tyres than Alonso he saw the Spaniard close up on him, but his ability to drive Sector 3 of the lap, with the slow chicane leading to the high speed final corner onto the straight, meant that he was able to measure the gap to the Ferrari and stay out of reach in the DRS zone, in much the same way as Vettel did with Hamilton here last season. It was a brilliantly judged win.
Hamilton managed to come through the field on a two stop strategy, whereas everyone else did three stops. He finished in 8th place, ahead of team mate Jenson Button, managing his tyres through two long stints of 21 and 31 laps respectively. After a huge disappointment after qualifying, it was a very strong drive by Hamilton to limit the damage. Romain Grosjean finished fourth with Kamui Kobayashi making sure the updates to the Sauber yielded a good result in fifth place. Vettel was sixth with Rosberg seventh.
It was an entertaining race with plenty of action throughout the field. Tyre strategies were fairly standard in comparison to last year’s race here, with three stops the choice of most drivers, except Lewis Hamilton. The harder Pirelli tyre seemed to be the better race tyre on the day.
At the start Maldonado was jumped by Alonso, who steamed up the inside into turn one. Raikkonen also made a good start, moving ahead of team mate Grosjean, who fell behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Alonso held a steady gap of three seconds to Maldonado until the second phase of pit stops. At this point Williams opted to pit early, and a combination of very fast in/out laps from Maldonado and Alonso being held up by the Marussia of Charles Pic allowed Maldonado to take the lead. It stayed this order for the remainder. Maldonado was able to with-stand sustained pressure from Alonso in the final 20 laps of the race and conserve his tyres sufficiently, finishing the race three seconds clear of second place.
Raikkonen followed closely home in third position as the pre-race favourite for many had a fairly quiet race, making his way in to third at the start and never being troubled from then on. The sister Lotus of Grosjean made a poor start and he found himself behind Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel on the first lap. However, Grosjean was able to re-pass those in front and set the fastest lap on the way to another high points scoring finish.
Kamui Kobayashi drove a great race to fifth position, the Sauber driver starting from tenth and making some characteristically brave moves to make his way through the field towards the end of the Grand Prix. He headed home Vettel, the double World Champion having a frustrating day consisting of traffic and a drive-through penalty for not respecting yellow flags. Although, he will be quite satisfied to increase his points lead over the McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Hamilton had run as highly as fourth in the race, following his exclusion from qualifying, and an ambitious two-stop strategy paid off for the Briton as he closed ever closer to the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in the latter stages, just missing out on seventh place by 0.2 seconds. Mercedes gained only seven points from the Grand Prix after Michael Schumacher collided with Bruno Senna at Turn one, causing both to retire. Button meanwhile had another forgettable race, complaining of grip issues on both sets of tyres and finishing in ninth position.
Completing the points was Nico Hulkenberg, the Force India driver was another to absorb sustained pressure as he denied Mark Webber a points scoring finish. Webber had lost a lot of ground at the start of the race due to a front-wing change.
It was another race that gave a different picture of the state of play in F1 today, the field is so close on performance and the management of the tyres is important, we see different winners and different teams competitive at every round.
Alonso lapped the Red Bull of Mark Webber here, for example, a strange turn around given that he finished almost a minute behind the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain three weeks ago. Ferrari brought six major changes to its car here and they’ve certainly made some progress. But the picture is still confused as to the peacking order of the cars as it changes from track to track. It is however clear that McLaren has had the fastest car at every race and yet is not leading the championship.
“When are are first and second in qualifying and race we can say we have the best car,” said Alonso, when asked about Ferrari’s progress. “This year it’s hard to have a pace advantage or to be happy with the car because it’s so close. Consistency will be important this year. We have had probably the most difficult start to the championship and we are leading the championship with Vettel so we have to be proud. I’m a bit surprised by the result, we were hoping for some signs of improvement, so we arrived here with optimism, but the pace this weekend has been better than expected. I still don’t really know where we are. Maybe we overperformed a little bit with the car we have and some other teams underperformed.”
Raikkonen was third for most of the race and pitted later than the leading pair and was on a charge in the closing stages, another lap and he would have passed Alonso for second place. His start set him up for a good race, but the choice of the soft tyre at the first stop was probably a mistake, which cost him the second place. Raikkonen knows that he again had the car to win the race.
“We ve been doung some small things not correctly and there have been some mistakes on my side and it’s going to cost you a lot,” he said afterwards. “As long as you give yourself the chance to fight at the front I think our car can do it.”
Michael Schumacher was penalised by stewards after the race for colliding with Bruno Senna. The stewards gave him a five place penalty at the next race in Monaco.
There was drama an hour after the race as a fire broke out in the Williams pit garage, the fire brigade had to attend as thick, acrid smoke plumed out across the Catalunya paddock. Four members of staff from Williams, four from Caterham and one for Force India were treated for smoke inhalation and there was believed to be one case of burns, for which the person was taken to hospital for checks, but team sources said that no-one was badly injured.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, 66 Laps
1. Maldonado Williams 1h39:09.145
2. Alonso Ferrari + 3.195
3. Raikkonen Lotus + 3.884
4. Grosjean Lotus + 14.799
5. Kobayashi Sauber + 1:14.641
6. Vettel Red Bull + 1:17.576
7. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:27.919
8. Hamilton McLaren + 1:28.100
9. Button McLaren + 1:25.200
10. Hulkenberg Force India + 1 lap
11. Webber Red Bull + 1 lap
12. Vergne Toro Rosso + 1 lap
13. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1 lap
14. Di Resta Force India + 1 lap
15. Massa Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
17. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
18. Glock Marussia + 2 laps
19. De la Rosa HRT + 3 laps