- Spanish Grand Prix
Impressive Maldonado storms to maiden winChris Medland May 13, 2012 « Schumacher hit with grid penalty | Maldonado celebrates 'a wonderful day' »
Pastor Maldonado stormed to his maiden Formula One victory - and the first for Williams since 2004 - in a gripping Spanish Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso, who battled with Maldonado until the final laps when his tyres fell away, held on for second from a fast-catching Kimi Raikkonen.
The result moves Alonso in to joint-lead of the championship with Sebastian Vettel who could only finish sixth behind Romain Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi. Nico Rosberg just held on to seventh from the recovering Lewis Hamilton, while Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were the final points-scorers.
While Hamilton's exclusion from qualifying may have opened up the race, Maldonado's chances of victory seemed slimmer as soon as Alonso muscled his way through in to the lead in to turn one. Having pegged the gap by lap two, Maldonado eased away from Raikkonen behind as scraps emerged further back.
A poor start dropped Mark Webber back, while Michael Schumacher jumped up to sixth place and Rosberg moved in to fourth ahead of Grosjean. Sergio Perez had his race immediately ruined, however, as a puncture caused him to have to limp round the whole first lap.
Hamilton made steady progress before showing his pace and race-craft to dive up the inside of Bruno Senna for 17th place. The first round of pit stops came quite early, with Alonso pitting just before Maldonado as the Williams closed in, keeping the lead as Hamilton made headway by staying out.
Raikkonen was the only man to stay in relative touch with the front-runners, but he was running eight seconds back and couldn't make any inroads. While Maldonado ran close to Alonso, Williams kept Bruno Senna out for a long first stint, but his race was ended when Schumacher slammed in to the back of him under braking for turn one, taking both out of the race and leaving the seven-time World Champion livid.
A slightly delayed stop hampered Hamilton's progress, but Grosjean was a lot happier on his second set of tyres and soon jumped ahead of Rosberg in to fourth place. Webber suddenly slowed with a loss of front load and had to pit for a new nose - dropping him out of the points.
It was the second round of pit-stops that changed the race, however as Maldonado stayed close to Alonso before pitting. The fresh tyres allowed him to pump in some quick laps and, with the Ferrari being blocked by Charles Pic, Alonso rejoined nearly seven seconds behind in second place.
Vettel and Felipe Massa had been running in the lower points-scoring places but their tasks were made harder when they were both handed drive-through penalties for ignoring yellow flags - Vettel's DRS having been wide open. That released Hamilton in to the points as he sought to make a two-stop strategy work.
At the front, Maldonado worked to preserve his tyres but saw Alonso close the gap, eventually pitting for the final time with 24 laps to go. Despite a slow stop his early laps on fresh rubber opened up the lead once again, but after Alonso pitted the pair caught Raikkonen - who was yet to pit for a final time - and having made their way past were just two seconds apart.
Alonso soon erased the deficit and used DRS to pressure the Williams, but Maldonado stayed calm and drove maturely to hold on to the lead while not overusing his tyres. Raikkonen pitted for the final time and set about chasing down the leaders, running over a second a lap more quickly.
As the race moved in to the closing laps Maldonado started to ease away from Alonso to eventually win by three seconds, with Raikkonen wringing the neck of the Lotus to cross the line just 0.6s behind the Ferrari. Vettel recovered to pass Hamilton and Rosberg late on, and once again the Mercedes struggled with its tyres as the two-stopping Hamilton closed in to hound him right to the flag.
The result moves Alonso level with Vettel at the top of the standings, while Hamilton limited the damage impressively to sit third - eight points of the lead. Raikkonen is now fourth and 12 points behind the leaders but the day belonged to Williams and Maldonado as this enthralling Formula One season delivered its fifth different winner from five different teams in the opening five races.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1