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.
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.”