Jack Evans, F1 correspondent
Pastor Maldonado held off intense pressure from Fernando Alonso and the Catalan crowd to claim his maiden victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, and the first FIA Formula One win for the Williams team since 2004.
"It’s an unbelievable feeling winning my first race. The car felt really consistent, was fantastic to drive and our pace was strong throughout. Alonso was chasing me hard but we looked after our tyres well and I managed to open the gap towards the end. The team has worked so hard all year and this win is for them," said Maldonado.
Kimi Raikkonen was right behind the first place battle in third with the other Lotus of Romain Grosjean next.
Sebastian Vettel pushed hard at the very end to claim sixth ahead of Nico Rosberg and behind Kamui Kobayashi. Lewis Hamilton was able to convert his back-of-the-grid start to an eighth place finish.
While Alonso created an uproar by snatching the lead from polesitter Maldonado at the start, spending too much time on worn tires near the middle of the race cost the Spaniard dearly; he swapped positions with Maldonado in their pit stops. The Ferrari did begin to challenge with around 20 laps to go, and looked mathematically sure to overtake first place, but what Alonso says was a problem with the car cost him the grip needed to get the pass done. He lost by 3.1 seconds.
Raikkonen came out of the pits in third place on fresh tires with just over ten laps remaining. Almost immediately the “Iceman” was lapping a second and a half faster than both leaders.
“At the end we needed a few more laps and we could have fought for the win,” he said, disappointed.
The Williams car’s performance has completely improved, then, since 2011’s worst-ever season. Maldonado is also Venezuela’s first race winner, and the fifth driver to score a victory in five races this fascinating season. "To be the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race is a big honour and hopefully I will win more races in the future," said the first time grand prix winner.
Hamilton’s run up the field from 24th to eighth was described by the Briton as “the best we could do.” He was the only driver to attempt a two-stop strategy instead of three, but this meant he had no hope of hold off Vettel in the last laps.
“I’m not entirely happy,” Vettel explained. “We could have finished maybe one position higher up, but we had a good recovery in the end.”
Both Red Bulls were troubled with nose changes, perhaps due to overuse at the Mugello tests earlier this month. Mark Webber finished eleventh.
Michael Schumacher again did not finish the race, this time because of a small front-to-back crash with Bruno Senna. “It is not easy to see from the TV replays,” Schumacher said. “But what happened from my viewpoint was that he went to the right to defend the inside line, and then suddenly, shortly before the braking point, went to the left.”
The Mercedes pushed the Williams off into gravel, and both cars were retired.
Sergio Perez started sixth, and then made immediate contact with Grosjean, costing the Mexican a chance at a points finish.
“In turn one I managed to get passed Romain,” Perez told reporters. “But then he hit me and I had to pit after lap one…Later I had to retire because of a transmission problem.”
Grosjean’s Lotus was obviously unaffected.
Alonso’s second place now puts him level in the points standings with Vettel at 61. Hamilton is third at 53. Raikkonen edges closer to him at 49.
The team standings still lean Red Bull’s way at 109 points over McLaren at 98. Lotus looks to be the biggest challenger to the top two by over 20 points to usual third-placers Ferrari. This is in part due to excellent results by the two Lotus drivers, part to Felipe Massa’s general lack of points (he finished 15th this race).
Surprisingly, Williams are now level with Mercedes at 43. If Maldonado can put in more performances half as good as his today, and if Bruno Senna lends some points finishes of his own to the Williams tally, they may just find themselves in a fight with the Silver Arrows.
But the big story for the season is Ferrari’s sudden improvement. It seems like the team is now legitimately back on terms with the front of the field after a mechanically poor beginning of the season. Lotus is also clearly capable, and it would be unsurprising to see “The Iceman” Raikkonen become the sixth different race winner this year.
The next race, in two weeks, is fabulous Monte Carlo—Pastor Maldonado’s favorite track.