Pastor Maldonado has been the primary butt of most Formula One jokes in the five years since his debut. He has had various memes dedicated to him over the years – including him as a crash test dummy, the man responsible for crashing Han Solo’s Millenium Falcon, and as the subject of every meme that is already on the internet.
But Maldonado has had his moments of glory in Formula One – not all hilarity, with fans forgetting that he is, at the end of the day, a Grand Prix winner, a title most other drivers on the current track have never held.
His only win – and perhaps his best race – came in 2012, at that year’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Then driving for Williams alongside Bruno Senna, Maldonado went onto the track in qualifying after McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who had just set the quickest time on track. ‘Crashtor’ outqualified the Briton by six-tenths of a second, leaving him in the dust.
Hamilton managed to scramble during the following two qualifying sessions, however, and was all set to begin the Spanish Grand Prix on pole, with Pastor Maldonado and then-Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso rounding up the top three.
Following the qualifying session, it was found that the McLaren driver did not have sufficient fuel aboard his car, or even enough for testing as per FIA rules – and that saw his pole position stripped, going to the 2nd best qualifier, Maldonado.
Although he started ahead, with Hamilton beginning from the back of the grid, Maldonado could not hold onto his lead for long, with home champion Fernando Alonso taking the lead following the very first turn.
But Hamilton already had an axe to grind with Crashtor..
Maldoanado and Hamilton: old foes
There was likely no love lost between the pair, with Hamilton and Maldonado involved in a big shunt at the previous year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
At the time, Hamilton had been the championship leader ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and poised then to win his second – a title that Vettel would eventually take.
Hamilton was about to take pole at that qualifying session when Maldonado collided with him, damaging his front wing, which the team, despite everything, managed to repair quickly enough that Hamilton would finish qualifying in second.
It was another collision, this time with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi for which Hamilton was largely responsible, that ended the Briton’s race (and, in the process, Kobayashi’s as well). Since then, Hamilton is said to not have got along with an otherwise affable Maldonado.
...but back to Spain, 2012
Following their pit stops, Maldonado managed to pull off the seemingly impossible – undercut Alonso to seize the lead. A combination of factors – among them Marussia’s Charles Pic – kept the double world champion lagging behind, despite which most expected him to take the lead back from Maldonado.
A combination of the Venezuelan’s perserverance and what was unarguably some brilliant pit strategy by Williams which saw Maldonado take his first and only Formula One victory.
But the evening’s excitement didn’t end there – and neither did Maldonado’s heroics.
The race had ended, the team had celebrated, and teams had all but wrapped up for the night. Williams had seen fireworks on track – and they now saw them in the paddock. A fire broke out in the Williams garage, later found to be caused by a leak from Bruno Senna’s oil rig. With a fuel sample being prepared for FIA testing catching fire, the garage was filled with thick black smoke that saw several members take ill and require medical attention.
Maldonado’s cousin, a spectator at the race, was also caught in the paddock fire – and with a broken foot, found it difficult to escape. The driver hoisted the young boy onto his shoulders, running out of the paddock to rescue him.
Whether or not one is a fan of Crashtor, McDonaldo, or the many other names that fans have given him, it is to be noted that F1 drivers, personnel and commentators all across the board consider him a quintessential ‘good guy’, a man friendly with everyone on and off the track.
He shared a manager with Jules Bianchi, who saw his life tragically cut short following injuries he sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, and at the young Frenchman’s funeral, Maldonado was the most visibly shattered of the bunch – showing a genuine bond between the drivers.
Formula One will perhaps miss its funniest personality, and a man to joke about. All said and done, it is perhaps to be noted that Maldonado, who showed skill in his junior career, had speed but not the ability to control and regulate it, which is what is essential in good racing.
But he more than provided his share of entertainment in the sport.