McLaren's Lewis Hamilton
might have ended up with a dominant pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix
after qualifying in Barcelona at the Circuit de Catalunya, but the real star of the hour-long session was surely Williams' Pastor Maldonado
who came close to pulling off a shock upset.
"Pastor's qualifying performance was stunning today," said Williams' chief operations officer Mark Gillan succinctly, hailing "a collection of very strong laps" by Maldonado.
And the man himself insisted that his strong performance on Saturday afternoon had come as no surprise to him, at least.
"I think yesterday we were thinking about top ten, it was possible," said the Venezuelan after claiming second place on the grid at the end of Q3. "This morning I was quite surprised about our performance because the car was so quick with lower fuel. This morning it was possible.
"We have been working so hard all year to understand these tyres and with the updates we have brought to this race we have made a very good step forward," he continued. "The car is very consistent and its race pace is good so I am really looking forward to the race tomorrow. There has been a really positive atmosphere in the team all season and this is a great result for them."
"To finish P2 is a great boost for the whole team and gives us a very good position from which to push hard in the race for decent points," added Gillan. "And hopefully a further belated 70th birthday present for Frank!"
Maldonado could even end up starting from pole position, if the race stewards rule that Hamilton's pole position time is to be deleted after the McLaren
came to a stop on its post-qualifying in-lap, reportedly because of underfuelling.
In stark contrast to the euphoria on Maldonado's side of the garage, there was deep gloom for Bruno Senna after the Brazilian spun out late in Q1 and failed to make it through the first round of qualifying.
"It was a disappointing qualifying for me," agreed Senna. "I had back luck with traffic when on the soft tyre. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow if I want to score any points."
Senna is already under pressure in the team, after he lost running in most of the Friday morning practice sessions in favour of the team's third driver Valtteri Bottas, who has been putting in some strong showings in Senna's car already this season. He was particularly strong on Friday, finishing with the fifth fastest time of FP1 on a track he knows well from racing in other series.
Senna by contrast concluded the afternoon FP2 session in 18th place - the same as his grid position for the Grand Prix. However, Senna was determined to remain optimistic.
"I have had good races from the back before, he said. "And our car is looking competitive this weekend!"
"It is obviously disappointing for Bruno to have crashed out of Q1 but we expect the race pace to be strong, agreed Gillan. "Points are still possible from P18."