Pastor Maldonado’s F1 career has come to an end after 95 Grands Prix and the man synonymous with accidents and incidents has now left the stage, no doubt to the relief of some of his fellow drivers.
But as much as the collisions and the penalties Maldonado will be remembered for his stunning victory in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, where he started from pole position and battled with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for the victory. He never stood on the F1 podium again.
To add to the drama the Williams F1 team garage caught fire after the race as the team was celebrating, destroying one of the race cars and much equipment. It was one of those scenarios you just couldn’t make up.
So how did he win that race?
The Williams was working well that weekend on the tricky Pirelli tyres. This was the extraordinary period when the first seven races of the season were won by seven different drivers. It was about getting it all right.
Williams found a good set up and Maldonado was on form. But there were stronger rivals with a better chance of winning. The Williams was a competitive car that weekend, as it was later in the season at other events including Singapore, where Maldonado qualified on the front row.
But the Venezuelan’s weakness was a chronic lack of consistency; he just made no mistakes in Barcelona that year and neither did the team.
It was a perfect example of how a race can be won or lost on the finest of margins and on a good or bad strategy decision. But also it shows that if you can execute a perfect weekend with no mistakes, you can win an unlikely victory against stronger opponents.
Williams was then being led operationally by Mark Gillan, with Mark Barnett as chief strategist. Ironically he is now at McLaren with Alonso. Gillan, Barnett and the team were trialling a new system on the pit wall that measured how much life the tyres had left in a stint and this gave the confidence to be aggressive, where Ferrari went conservative. Williams had read the conditions through the weekend and planned their strategy perfectly.
In Friday practice, with track temperatures above 40 degrees, the soft tyre was working well as a race tyre. However expectation before the weekend was that the temperatures would be lower on race day than the rest of the weekend.
This led some teams to plan to save three new sets of hard tyres for the race, as these have a lower working temperature range than the softs and would therefore come into their own in those conditions. This turned out to be the correct thing to do; the track was at 44 degrees on Saturday and this dropped to 32 degrees on Sunday and the hard was indeed the faster tyre.
Williams and Maldonado did this, Ferrari had only two new sets for Alonso.
Maldonado lost the start to Alonso, but managed to beat the Spaniard and won the race for Williams due to planning and to a good strategy call half the way through the race. Williams was confident they had a faster car than the Ferrari and expected Lotus to be the main challenge. However while Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen had the car to win, he was a fraction off due to race strategy and reading the conditions and ended up third.
One of the key factors that decided the outcome of the race, before the race had even begun and it eliminated the favourite for the race win; McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. The Briton had a 0.6second per lap car advantage that weekend. But a mistake by the McLaren team when he did his final run in qualifying ruined his chances.
Due to a refuelling error, Hamilton’s car did not have enough fuel in it to complete the lap and be legal at the end. He was moved to the back of the grid by stewards. Maldonado had done a strong lap for second place, which became pole position with Hamilton’s demotion.
In the race, the decisive moment was the early second stop of Maldonado. Alonso had enough pace in the opening two stints of the race that Maldonado wasn’t able to get close enough to attack.
Importantly, however, the Williams had better tyre life at the end of the stints and at the end of the second stint, Maldonado closed up on Alonso, from over three seconds to half of that. Barnett made the call to pit the Venezuelan two laps before Alonso for the second stop while Ferrari allowed their driver to stay out and run into slower traffic.
Having saved the sets of new hard tyres, Barnett calculated that he would then have the tyre life to do 42 laps with one more stop to make without losing pace at the end.
It was brilliantly executed; his in-lap was 0.4s faster than Alonso’s, the stop was only 0.2secs slower than Ferrari’s, but crucially on new hard tyres his out-lap was 2.6 seconds faster and the first flying lap was also a second faster. With Alonso losing time behind the Marussia of Charles Pic, Maldonado had done enough to take the lead from the Ferrari when it stopped two laps later than the Williams.
Alonso’s tyres suffered in the wake of the Williams and the job was done for Maldonado.
He had won many races in GP2, so he knew what to do when in that position. It was just one of those days when the team got everything perfect in its strategy and execution, their rivals made errors and the driver was able to deliver what was asked of him and found some consistency.
What are you favourite or least favourite Maldonado memories? Leave them in the Comments section below