BARCELONA (AFP) –
Pastor Maldonado drove to a dramatic victory on Sunday, becoming the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race by triumphing at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Driving with huge self-control, he produced a flawless race for the Williams team, delivering their first win since Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Maldonado had become the first Venezuelan driver to take a pole position when he was elevated from second place on the grid on Saturday evening, following Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification for fuel irregularities.
In only his 24th Grand Prix, Maldonado drove with great composure in the closing stages to make the most of his team’s clever strategy by holding off two-time champion and local hero Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
“This is just such a great day for the team,” said Maldonado. “After last year, we have worked and worked, and pushed so hard, and I knew this was going to be a tough race, but to have my first podium and my first win — you can just imagine the emotions.”
Kimi Raikkonen finished third for Lotus.
It was also a wonderful way for the Williams team to mark the 70th birthday on Saturday of their team founder Frank Williams who was surrounded by his family throughout the race in the team garage.
Romain Grosjean came home fourth in the second Lotus ahead of fifth-placed Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber and defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.
A late charge by Vettel enabled him to rise to sixth by passing fellow-German Nico Rosberg, who was seventh for Mercedes, and Hamilton, who also drove superbly to rise from 24th and last on the grid to finish eighth.
Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button came home ninth and Nico Hulkenberg was 10th for Force India on a day when Maldonado became the fifth different winner in five races so far this year, the first time this has happened since 1983.
Vettel’s late push enabled him to maintain his position at the top of the drivers’ standings, where he shares the lead, on 61 points, with Alonso, eight points ahead of Hamilton.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull stayed out in front with 109 points ahead of McLaren on 98.
Maldonado made a decent getaway, but it was not enough to resist a determined charge from Alonso who thrust his Ferrari down the inside to grab the line and the lead as they sped through turns one and two.
In the marginally cooler weather, the entire field started on the softer tyres. This meant the early priority was tyre preservation and early pit stops — and staying out of trouble, a target missed by Mexican Sergio Perez who caught Grosjean’s front wing and suffered a puncture on his Sauber in turn two.
At the back, Hamilton produced a near-surgical example of precision passing as he sliced through the field from the back of the grid. He was up to 19th on lap one and to 16th by lap five.
Three laps later, he had climbed to 12th as most of the field pitted for fresh tyres and by lap 10, having stayed out, he was fourth.
Alonso pitted, after nine, to give Maldonado the lead for two laps before he came in and handed the initiative back to the Spaniard, a two-step dance that was reversed after 25 laps, and 26, when the Venezuelan came in first and regained the lead, after rejoining third, when Alonso made his second stop.
Michael Schumacher’s race came to an early end, having run into the back of Bruno Senna’s Williams at turn one where the Brazilian, on ageing soft tyres, had to brake early while the German, on a fresh set of prime hard tyres, was at maximum speed.
Hamilton also delivered drama when he accidentally ran over his own discarded rear left wheel in his pit-stop after 14 laps and then launched another charge from 12th, climbing to fifth before pitting again after lap 35.
Once again, he showed dazzling driving skills to keep passing rival cars, at one point sweeping around the outside of turn four to overtake both Toro Rosso cars.
As Hamilton hustled, Maldonado pitted again from the lead after lap 41, gifting Alonso the job for two laps before he also came in.
After being held up behind Raikkonen, Maldonado regained the lead, proving he had consistent speed. For him, Williams and the rest, it was now a matter of tyre-management over the final 20 laps.
Alonso was also held up by Raikkonen, who was extending the life of his tyres, before finding a way past him and back to second for the final sprint.
The Finn, however, had cunningly stretched the life of his tyres to give himself a chance of competing for glory, too. After his third stop, Raikkonen hurled his car back into the fray, chasing the front-runners in a blaze of fastest laps.
All of this led to a tense finish as Raikkonen caught the leaders by 1.4 seconds per lap and Maldonado drove with unexpected aplomb at the front to retain his lead.