Unheralded Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado produces the drive of his life to end Williams' long wait
Sir Frank Williams' daughter Claire, a board member of the famed British team, bought her father a trophy recently for his 70th birthday.
"It was a spoof present, a joke," she said. "We all agree we hadn't seen one for a while... Now we've got two."
They gave the veteran racing knight the other one in the paddock at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona yesterday afternoon, after he, his wife Ginny and their three children, and 1996 Williams world champion Damon Hill's wife Georgie, had sat tensely monitoring progress as their man Pastor Maldonado headed for the upset of the season. It was one of the sweetest of Williams' 114 wins, because it was one that many feared they would never see. The last was in Brazil back in 2004, but after a perfect drive the unfancied Venezuelan racer put one of the most popular outfits in the paddock back on top. It was an emotional moment for a lot of people.
"It feels wonderful," Williams said as he sat quietly beaming in the corner of his team's hospitality unit while all around him faces smiled, hands were clasped and backs were endlessly slapped. It's been an eight-year drought, and Maldonado's splendid drive laid to rest increasing suggestions that, like Tyrrell before it, Williams' best days lay in its past.
"This is exactly what we needed, and I don't believe that Pastor put a wheel wrong all race," Williams said.
The only moment to mar the team's day came when a serious fire broke out in the fuel storage area of the pitlane garage shortly after the race, sending dense smoke billowing into the paddock. Four team members were treated for unspecified injuries.
Maldonado was beaten away from pole position by fellow front-row man Fernando Alonso, and the crowd's hero led for the first 27 laps. At that stage, the result seemed like a foregone conclusion. "Fernando just got a better start than me, but by the end of the first lap I could tell that our pace was good and just settled down to keep running close behind him," Maldonado said.
He stuck close enough, and though Alonso stayed ahead during the first pit stops, by the second Maldonado had slipped ahead after the team brought him in two laps sooner. But just as it seemed that Ferrari's challenge had been broken by their old adversary, Alonso got his second wind and by the 48th lap Maldonado was under pressure and the race was on.
It was Alonso at his most dangerous. On the 57th of the 66 laps he had a tentative look down the inside of the Williams in Turn 1 but Maldonado kept his nerve and Alonso thought better of it. Soon he realised that had been the only chance he was going to get. Gradually in the final laps he began to lose ground as his car struggled for grip. "It was like we had lost an aero part from the front wing or the floor," he said. "The grip was just gone."
"Fernando was so close but we were looking to manage the tyre degradation so I wasn't pushing too hard, to keep the tyres alive to the end of the race," Maldonado said. "We had a small mistake in our last pit stop but that didn't affect our performance. We had an extremely good strategy today, with everything under control. I had better traction than him, was using my Kers well, so I was managing the race, the gaps and the pace."
Alonso became the prey rather than the hunter in the closing laps as Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus finally came good and the Finn slashed a 20-second gap with a series of very fast laps, but it was too little too late and he was still half a second behind the Ferrari at the end.
Raikkonen's team-mate, Romain Grosjean, led home Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who put in a feisty drive which included a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags.
Lewis Hamilton also drove a brilliant race. After he was disqualified from pole position on Saturday when the team infringed fuelling rules, he started from the back of the grid on a two-stop strategy in comparison with the other frontrunner's three stops. After nursing his tyres he attacked seventh placed Nico Rosberg's Mercedes and finished just two-tenths behind.
Team-mate Jenson Button was an unhappy ninth, struggling with his car's poor handling and surviving a brush when Kobayashi overtook him by surprise. Michael Schumacher also had a day to forget. He was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next grand prix in Monaco after being deemed the cause of a collision with Bruno Senna which took both men out of the race.
This, however, was the day of the underdog, and having ruined Sauber's party in Malaysia, Alonso proved unable to spoil the fairy tale for Williams.
FIA Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona
1 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1hr 39mins 09.145secs
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:39:12.340
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:39:13.029
4 R Grosjean (Swit) Lotus F1 Team 1:39:23.944
5 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:40:13.786
6 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:40:16.721
7 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:40:27.064
8 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:40:27.285
9 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:40:34.391
10 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force IndiaAt 1 lap
11 M Webber (Aus) Red BullAt 1 lap
12 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro RossoAt 1 lap
13 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro RossoAt 1 lap
14 P di Resta (GB) Force IndiaAt 1 lap
15 F Massa (Br) FerrariAt 1 lap
16 H Kovalainen (Fin) CaterhamAt 1 lap
17 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham At 1 lap
18 T Glock (Ger) Marussia At 2 laps
19 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 At 3 laps
Not Classified: 20 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari, 21 C Pic (Fr) Marussia, 22 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1, 23 B Senna (Br) Williams, 24 MSchumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP Drivers Championship
1 S Vettel 61pts
2 F Alonso 61
3 L Hamilton 53
4 K Raikkonen 49
5 M Webber48
6 J Button 45
7 N Rosberg 41
8 R Grosjean 35
9 P Maldonado 29
10 S Perez 22
11 K Kobayashi 19
12 P di Resta 15
13 B Senna 14
14 J-E Vergne 4
15 N Hulkenberg 3
16 D Ricciardo 2
17 F Massa 2
18 M Schumacher 2
0 Points: 19 T Glock, 20 C Pic, 21 V Petrov, 22 H Kovalainen, 23 P de la Rosa, 24 N Karthikeyan.
1 Red Bull 109pts, 2 McLaren 98, 3 Lotus F1 Team 84, 4 Ferrari 63, 5 Mercedes GP 43, 6 Williams 43, 7 Sauber-Ferrari 41, 8 Force India 18, 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 6, 0 Points: 10 Marussia, 11 Caterham, 12 HRT-F1.