Inside Line: 2012 Barcelona Grand Prix
09:24, 15 May 2012
2012 Spanish Grand Prix
Four from four became five from five. To top it all off, a surprise winner and newcomer to the grand prix winners circle. Pastor Maldonado, often criticised as a sponsor-endorsed pay driver, is a grand prix winner while his team Williams F1, coming off the back of their worst season in Formula One, are race winners for the first time since 2004. All this coming days after Sir Frank Williams’ 70th birthday – it was simply all too fitting.
It’s interesting to note that less than year ago; the situation was completely the opposite for both Maldonado and Williams. 2011 – a season to forget for both Williams and an indifferent debut year for Maldonado to boot. The latter languishing in its worst ever season while the former was lucky enough to get the car to within a points finish. Within the space of weekend, months and months of hardship and torment were cast aside.
For this they have Maldonado to thank; a weekend he calmly and confidently made his own. Indeed it was a weekend performance the Formula One community had yet to see from the Venezuelan – whose best finish up until this point had been a solitary eight placed finish.
It was a revelation of a weekend, a weekend that could well have jumpstarted a thus far indifferent career in Formula One. Drafted in by Williams at the start of 2011, the Venezuelan brought with him impressive backing from the country’s leading Petroleum Company – backing Williams desperately were in need of. His somewhat anonymous performances over the last 15 months earned him the tag of “pay driver” i.e a driver with immense sponsorship backing hired by a team for purely financial gain.
This weekend however, such a tag was firmly forgotten about. A rabbit out of the hat in qualifying set him on his way, Lewis Hamilton and McLaren’s fuelling error moments later aided the cause. When asked after his victory when he first started to believe he could win, he coolly answered, “after qualifying.”
It was a confidence and calmness that was evident throughout the 66 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya. Despite losing the lead to crowd-favourite Alonso, the Venezuelan kept the Spaniard honest throughout, eventually re-passing the Ferrari in the pits after a quick change of strategy from the Williams pit wall that brought Maldonado in earlier than initially planned. It was a strategic masterstroke from Williams and one that rolled back the years.
Ferrari and Fernando were far from done but try as he may Alonso just couldn’t find that extra tenth to find a way passed the Williams. Maldonado continued to add to his reputation, fending off the intense pressure brought on by the double world champion. Here his critics would have said he’d crumble. In truth, he never looked like he would. Once Fernando’s tyres began to drop off, it was effectively his to lose – which he duly didn’t.
Despite it being another victory that certainly got away for Alonso and Ferrari, there can be more than enough satisfaction after this weekend. The upgrade that the Italians brought in over the three week break came to fruition – with Fernando closer to the front all weekend long than he had been all season. If the Spaniard was told he would lead the championship after five rounds back in Australia, he would have laughed it off. It’s been a remarkable three week turnaround for the prancing horse – who promise more upgrades over the next couple of races.
Elsewhere, Lotus continued their march up the grid with another strong showing – convincingly beating both the McLarens and Red Bulls for the first time this season. Kimi Raikkonen’s second consecutive podium is proof that the Ice Man’s fighting spirit is well and truly back, while consistent race from Romain Grosjean underlines Lotus’ qualifying and race day competiveness.
All three teams on the podium have little time to celebrate however, with practice for the Monaco grand prix beginning a day earlier than usual this coming Thursday – as is tradition with the famous race around the principality. Given the unpredictability witnessed so far this season, to make a call on how the next race will pan out is easier said than done. Some teams will be itching to replicate this weekend if not do better, while others will be desperate to right the wrongs. It’s all shaping up nicely.
Driver of the weekend: It would have had to been something special from somewhere else to deny Pastor Maldonado here. Indeed, it was also the surprise of the weekend, giving that Williams had yet to even get close to the podium let alone the top step. It will be most interesting to see where the Venezuelan goes from here and where this shot of momentum can take him.
Good weekend for: Williams F1, despite a rather unfortunate fuel explosion and fire in their garage hours after claiming a first victory since 2004 (thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt); Ferrari and Sauber for making impressive strides with upgrades over the three week break and Nico Hulkenburg for finally outdoing his team mate di Resta over an entire weekend.
Bad weekend for: McLaren – whose fuel error on Saturday relegated Lewis Hamilton to the back of the grid. On top of this, their race pace once again didn’t match their pre-weekend expectation – with Jenson Button having little or no confidence in his tyres throughout the race. Red Bull once again found themselves wanting – effectively putting back to square one after Bahrain. Both teams mentioned have a massive task ahead of them in Monaco – with the former now in need of victory more than ever.
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