13 May 2012
Fantastic maiden win for Maldonado in Spain
Sometimes good things happen to good people. And sometimes dreams come true. But surely no one expected it to happen so spectacularly for Pastor Maldonado and Williams in Spain?
Tomorrow morning, Sir Frank Williams will wake up, rub his eyes, and think: "What a lovely dream." And then he'll start getting ready for the Spanish Grand Prix, knowing that dreams are one thing but they can never be confused with the reality of life, especially the cruel version of reality doled out in F1 which punishes dreamers and means you'd never actually get a win like that in million years.
At some point on his way to the Circuit de Catalunya, it will start to dawn on Sir Frank that it's Monday. And that Sunday actually happened. And that pre-race odds of 300-1 don't even begin to accurately represent just how unlikely the spectacle of Pastor Maldonado claiming his first Grand Prix victory in F1 and putting Williams back at the top of the podium for the first time in eight years really is.
Okay, so Pastor Maldonado had started from pole position, after the stunning overnight decision by the stewards to strip McLaren's Lewis Hamilton of his qualifying times for a technical infringement after his car ran too low on fuel after its final flying lap. But even starting at the front seemed no assurance of race success for the midfield team, especially not when Maldonado found himself facing off against the formidable Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari in the run down to the first corner once the lights went out.
It started as most of us in our hearts knew it would: Maldonado got a good start, but Alonso's was better - the work of a seasoned double world champion at the top of his game. Maldonado tried moving over and squeezing him as tight as he dared, but Alonso didn't flinch. As they swept through the first corner, Alonso inched ahead and finally took track position. The deed was done, and the race was won.
Except, Alonso was hardly making a break for it. Maldonado wasn't panicking, and instead was perfectly happy staying with the Ferrari and maintaining a smooth clean line. While it didn't exactly look like he was in any position to wrest back the lead, he certainly looked a solid lock for second place. Sir Frank must have thought that even this scenario was almost beyond his wildest dreams.
The first round of pit stops came relatively early and didn't do much to upset the running order of the leaders, with Alonso resuming ahead of Maldonado who was being followed by the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. Strangely, however, both Kimi and his team mate Romain Grosjean opted to stay on the short-life soft option tyre, and whatever extra grip they were expecting to get out of this did little to help them with their race pace, and the whole ill-starred experiment flopped quite badly.
As the race entered its 25th lap, Williams were working furiously to see if there was anything they could do on the strategy side to give their man even the slightest edge over Fernando Alonso. They decided on a risky course: bring Maldonado in now, and hope and pray that he could nail a series of blistering outlaps while Alonso was still grappling with slow lapped traffic. The downside was that Pastor would have to push his remaining sets of tyres further than Alonso and could be a sitting duck, but it seemed a risk worth taking and they duly summoned him in.
They got lucky: very, very lucky. Not only did Maldonado deliver on the fast laps they needed right on cue, but Alonso's troubles with traffic went thermonuclear when he found it impossible to get past Charles Pic in the Marussia car for well over a lap. Pic would get a drive-thru penalty for holding the Ferrari up, but that did little to alleviate Alonso's fury. He knew this was a vital moment in the race and that the balance of possibilities had just been given a sharp knock in Williams' favour.
Even so, it was staggering when Alonso exited from his own pit stop a few minutes later to find himself not just narrowly edged by Maldonado, but fully seven seconds behind him. Suddenly the race was turned on its head and it seemed that there was a very real possibility of Maldonado actually pulling this one off.
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