Maldonado clings to overdue Williams win in Spain | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.05.2012
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Maldonado clings to overdue Williams win in Spain

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado has won his first ever F1 race at the Spanish Grand Prix, it was also the first victory in nearly eight years for his Williams team. Home hero Fernando Alonso rolled in second for Ferrari.

Home fans at the Circuit de Catlaunya would have been delighted with the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, as Fernando Alonso overtook the pole-sitter Pastor Maldonado into the first corner. The Spanish champion maintained his advantage until the second round of pit stops near half-distance, when the Williams managed to grab the lead.

Maldonado, despite being hounded by the far more experienced Alonso for almost all of the remaining laps, held on to secure a historic win for Williams. The former power in F1 had not won a race since 2004 in Brazil, by far the longest drought in the Oxfordshire-based outfit's storied history.

Sir Frank Williams

Sir Frank Williams has been in the F1 paddock since the '60s.

The victory coincided with belated seventieth birthday festivities for team owner and founder Sir Frank Williams. Williams' poor health - he has been confined to a wheelchair since 1986 - means that he cannot attend every F1 race nowadays, but the warmer Spanish climate meant he could celebrate his April 16 birthday with his F1 friends and rivals in Barcelona.

The team said on its official Twitter feed shortly after the race: "Happy birthday Sir Frank - hope we've done you proud!"

The team has been resurgent in 2012 after its worst-ever season last year, with one factor thought to be its switch from Cosworth to Renault engines, but the car's performance at Barcelona was by far its strongest of the season to date.

The win means that five different drivers from five different teams have won the opening five races, which is unprecedented in Formula One.

Alonso, Raikkonen complete unusual podium

After pressuring Maldonado for almost half the race, Fernando Alonso dropped away in the closing stages - apparently due to tire wear. The Ferrari driver, who now shares the championship lead with Sebastian Vettel, managed to hold of the hard-charging Lotus Renault of Kimi Raikkonen, who bagged his second straight podium finish.

Fernando Alonso on the track

Alonso nearly delighted the Tifosi and the home crowd, but faded at the last

Raikkonen's teammate Romain Grosjean finished a strong fourth, and Sauber's Japanese star Kamui Kobayashi grabbed fifth in a tough race for the traditional front-runners at McLaren and Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel finished sixth, top of what many usually perceive to be the lead quartet, after a combative drive with his McLaren rivals. The British duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button rolled in eighth and ninth, unable to follow Vettel past Mercedes' Nico Rosberg in seventh.

German driver Nico Hülkenberg - the last man to put a Williams on pole position also at Interlagos in Brazil as a rookie in 2010 - bagged the last points-paying position, beating out Red Bull's Mark Webber, who had a trying afternoon.

Timo Glock was unable to score points as usual, finishing second-to-last in the perennially off-pace Marussia-Cosworth car.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull walks through the parc ferme after the race

Vettel had a difficult weekend, but outscored most of his direct rivals - with the exception of Alonso

German multi-champion Michael Schumacher had a disappointing end to the day, after colliding with the other Williams of Bruno Senna. The pair collided on entry to the first corner, with Schumacher telling German television channel RTL after the race that he thought the Brazilian nephew of Ayrton Senna had changed direction in the braking zone, causing the collision. Both cars were forced to retire due to damage sustained, and the stewards therefore decided to investigate the incident - and perhaps issue penalties - only after the race.

Post-race fire

The Williams crew's long-awaited celebrations of their 135th F1 win - their first in 132 attempts - was cut short by an explosion and subsequent fire in the team's garage. Mechanics from the team and from neighboring outfits in the paddock worked together to extinguish the flames and thick smoke, with the area quickly cordoned off as a precaution.

Bruno Senna's retired car, the only one in the garage at the time as Maldonado's was in the winners' enclosure, was thought to have been the fire's source.

Mechanics from at least three teams were confirmed to have been involved in the ensuing hours.

Caterham F1 Team issued a brief press statement saying that "all the team’s employees have been accounted for and four people have been taken to the circuit medical center for examination; one with a minor hand injury and three with respiratory issues."

Sahara Force India, meanwhile, issued a pair of Tweets about their one employee who helped douse the flames.

"Thanks for your best wishes to the team member who bravely went to fight the flames. He is being checked out in the circuit medical center," the team said. "Our guy is OK on the whole. Just some coughing from all that smoke. Our guys are made of strong stuff!"

Williams was the last team to issue a statement, saying the fire originated from the fuel area but that it's root cause was as yet unknown and would be investigated.

"Four team personnel were injured in the incident and subsequently taken to the medical center. Three are now receiving treatment at local hospitals for their injuries, while the fourth has been released. The team will monitor their condition and ensure they receive the best possible care," the statement said.

Williams also thanked fellow teams and the FIA, motorsport's governing body, for their support throughout.

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Matt Zuvela