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Williams driver Pastor Maldonado celebrates his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix. (Andres Kudacki/AP)
Williams driver Pastor Maldonado celebrates his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix. (Andres Kudacki/AP)

Motorsports

Maldonado scores first F1 victory for Williams in almost a decade Add to ...

Pastor Maldonado and the Williams team did their best impression of the proverbial phoenix on Sunday, taking the first win for the outfit in almost a decade.

The Venezuelan sophomore fought off the hard-charging Ferrari of Fernando Alonso in the final laps of the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona to take the win, something that seemed unlikely this year, after the team performed dismally in 2011. To make matters worse, Williams' poor results were compounded by financial woes off track.

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But that was all forgotten on Sunday afternoon.

“I think it’s a wonderful day, not just for me but for all the team. We have been pushing so hard since last year to try to improve, race by race, and here we are,” Maldonado said.

“I’m really happy because the team hasn’t won many races for many years, so this is a great moment for us. I hope to continue like that.”

The win marked the first time a Williams' driver has taken their place on the top step of the podium since Juan Pablo Montoya tasted success at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Sadly, the team's celebrations were interrupted by a fire that broke out inside the Williams garage about 90 minutes after the race. Personnel from several teams leapt into action to help extinguish the flames, which apparently started in the fuel storage area of the garage. The circuit medical centre attended to more than 30 people after the incident, and four needed to be taken to a nearby hospital.

Although Williams' struggles on and off the track made a win implausible going into 2012, the victory in Spain was no fluke. Maldonado qualified second overall on Saturday before moving up one spot when polesitter Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was excluded from the results. Hamilton's car ran out of gas after his pole lap and stopped on the circuit. The rules state that cars must return to the pitlane under their own power after the session ends and must have enough gas onboard to provide a one-litre fuel sample to post-qualifying scrutineers.

Maldonado and Williams also became the fifth different driver and constructor combination to take a victory in the first five races of 2012. In order, Jenson Button (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) took the wins in the four starts prior to Spain.

The last time that happened was 1983, when Nelson Piquet (Brabham), John Watson (McLaren), Alain Prost (Renault), Patrick Tambay (Ferrari), and Keke Rosberg (Williams) took wins in that order. Prost became a repeat winner at the sixth grand prix of 1983, before Michele Alboreto took the chequered flag in the next to make it six different driver/constructor combinations in the first seven races. In all, eight different drivers won races in 1983.

The string could stretch to six this year, since 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen continues to knock on victory’s door, though he has yet to find the handle. The Lotus driver finished third in Spain after taking second in the previous race in Bahrain. It seems only a matter of time before he gets one under his belt. The race on the tight and twisty streets of Monaco in two weeks may offer Räikkönen an excellent chance to use his experience to make things happen. He took the win in Monte Carlo in 2005, and has three podiums in nine starts there.

Almost as amazing as Maldonado's win has been the performance of two-time world champion Alonso. When the season began, the Ferrari was simply not quick enough to race at the front, and yet the crafty Alonso managed to remain in contention.

A magnificent performance in rainy conditions in Malaysia allowed the Spanish driver to showcase his talent. He drove masterfully to take a completely unexpected win for the Scuderia.

With his second place finish at home in Spain, Alonso's 61 points has him tied atop the standings with reigning double world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, with a quarter of the season already over.

“I am a definitely surprised by the quantity of points that we have; I’m a bit surprised by today’s result and the weekend’s results. We were confident of improving the car; we were hoping for some signs of improvement here in Barcelona,” Alonso said.

“We have probably had the most difficult start to a championship in [my]three years with Ferrari, with a car that was not competitive at all. So we have to be very, very proud and very happy with the points we achieved and with the position. Maybe we [should not]be so proud about how competitive we are, but we are working on that.”

So far this year, Alonso has outscored his teammate Felipe Massa by a massive margin of 61 to two.

With Ferrari seemingly getting things back on track, Alonso should get tougher as the summer begins and maybe give Ferrari fans some hope that the team can even salvage a title out of what promised to be a difficult season.

The same cannot be said for those rooting for seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who continues to look ordinary at best in the Mercedes, especially compared to his younger and faster teammate Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg has also embarrassed his teammate in points, taking 41 markers to Schumacher's two. Unfortunately, Schumacher needed no help from his teammate to look foolish in Spain after he ran into the back of the Williams of Bruno Senna at the end of the start-finish straight on lap 12.

Both cars retired from the race due to the damage, and Schumacher was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next race in Monaco for his actions.

Best excuse ever?

When Lewis Hamilton was excluded from qualifying for running out of gas after taking pole in Spain, his McLaren team came up with what can only be described as a creative defence. The driver stopped on track after his fast lap due to low fuel, which is against the rules.

The team appealed the stewards' ruling, arguing that a force majeure had taken place.

Usually, force majeure applies to extraordinary events out of the control of the driver, team, or even the sport. For example, it could apply if Hamilton were involved in an accident on his in-lap and his fuel tank was ruptured.

So, what was McLaren's force majeure argument? Essentially, a mechanic didn't put the right amount of gas in the car, which meant Hamilton had to stop to ensure there would be enough in the tanks for the required post-qualifying tests.

Strangely, the stewards rejected the appeal, and Hamilton started from the back of the grid.

Motorsport loses legend Carroll Shelby

The racing world lost a giant last Friday when one of the most influential figures in North American motorsport, Carroll Shelby, passed away in Dallas, Tex. He was 89.

After beginning a relationship with Ford in the early 1960s, Shelby's name became synonymous with speed and style for almost 50 years. He first developed Shelby Cobras for Ford and later moved to Chrysler, where several Dodge Shelby derivatives were created. At Chrysler, he worked with the executive who originally hooked him up with the Mustang, Lee Iacocca.

While many know Shelby as a car design guru, he also had a fine racing career to go along with his engineering skills. He raced for Maserati and Aston Martin in Formula One in the late 1950s and won the famed 24-Hours of Le Mans in 1959. A heart condition forced him to retire soon after that win.

Once out of the driver's seat, Shelby the engineer transformed racing with his cars, especially the original Cobra, which gave the U.S. a contender that could beat the established European models that dominated motorsport at the time. His Shelby American Ford GT40s won at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967.

His final contribution to automotive manufacturing was working on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500.

Overall, it's not too bad a record for a guy who couldn't cut it as a chicken farmer.

Hendrick takes No. 200

Hendrick Motorsport became only the second NASCAR team to record 200 wins when Jimmie Johnson took the chequered flag at Darlington on Saturday night. The team joins Richard Petty Enterprises in the 200 club. Petty has 268 victories. Roush Fenway Racing is third overall, at 127 wins.

The historic 200th win came seven months after the team notched up No. 199, which happened last October when Johnson took the victory in the Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway.

Rick Hendrick founded his NASCAR team, first called All-Star Racing, in 1984. The one-car team scored its maiden win at Martinsville Speedway on April 29, 1984, with Jeff Bodine at the wheel. Renamed Hendrick Motorsports a year later, it has gone on to win 10 championships, five by Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), four by Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) and one by Terry Labonte (1996).

Gordon and Johnson account for almost three-quarters of the team's triumphs, with 141 wins between them. Gordon has 85, while the Darlington victory was the 56th for Johnson.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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