Pastor Maldonado, of Wiliams F1, a team that had not won a grand prix since 2004, began the Spanish Grand Prix from the front of the grid, after a shocking qualifying session and after McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, the original pole sitter, was penalized for a fuel infringement and moved to the back of the grid.
If there is a track where pole means absolutely everything, it's at Circuit de Catalunya, where 16 of the last 21 winners have come from pole. Nevertheless, Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari, was sitting second on the grid and drooling at the opportunity of stealing position off the start in front of his home fans.
As expected, the Ferrari driver made a lightning-quick getaway and beat Maldonado around the outside into the first corner. The Ferrari star then eked out a small gap, and Maldonado’s chances quickly appeared grim.
But after the first round of pitstops, the Williams driver began to claw back small amounts of time to maintain a fighting chance.
The opportunity came as the second round of stops arrived. Maldonado dived in early. Armed with fresh hard-compound tires, he put in a series of fast laps that caught Ferrari by surprise. By the time Alonso had taken on new tires, the Venezuelan was powering past the pit exit and into turn one with his lead re-established.
An intriguing battle developed. Alonso, armed with newer tires, closed the gap and made a sequence of attempts to pass Maldonado. Alonso repeatedly closed right up on Maldonado in the first two sectors, but he was left for dead at the end of the final sector, giving him no chance to use his DRS to try a pass. Eventually Alonso, suffering a loss of grip, was forced to back off and Maldonado cruised through the final few laps to take a memorable victory.
“It’s a wonderful day, not just for me but for all the team,” said Maldonado, who is the fifth winner in five grands prix in 2012. “We have been pushing so hard since last year to try to improve race by race and here we are. It was a tough race, especially because of the rear tires – after a couple of laps we were struggling with [them]. However, I’m pretty happy because the car was so competitive since the first lap."
Alonso, who finished ahead of third place Kimi Raikkonen, still managed to score enough points to tie Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel for the lead in the championship.
Vettel, meanwhile, was the highest placed Red Bull Racing man, with sixth. The defending champion had an eventful afternoon characterized by a drive-through penalty for not heeding yellow flags following a crash involving Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna.
“I think we have to be happy. It was a hard day at the office,” said Vettel. “We had a good recovery at the end – we know that we are probably a bit stronger at the end of the stints and that worked. It was good fun, but obviously when it’s up and down, up and down like that it’s quite difficult.
Vettel also had a long pitstop to change a nose cone; a move he said was the right one.
“I didn’t think I had damage to the nose. But it felt like something was stuck. You know that with a lot of rubber off line maybe a big piece of rubber got stuck and that ruins the aerodynamics. I wasn’t sure. I tried another lap but it wasn’t the right thing to do, so we changed the nose. It cost a lot of time but was the right thing as then I was told that something on the front left of the wing was broken.”
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber finished 11th, ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, who were 12th and 13th.
1 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela); Williams-Renault; 1:39:09.145 25
2 Fernando Alonso (Spain); Ferrari; +00:03.195 18
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin); Lotus-Renault; +00:03.884 15
4 Romain Grosjean (Fra); Lotus-Renault; +00:14.799 12
5 Kamui Kobayashi (Jap); Sauber; +01:04.641 10
6 Sebastian Vettel (Ger); Red Bull-Renault; +01:07.576 8
7 Nico Rosberg (Ger); Mercedes GP; +01:17.919 6
8 Lewis Hamilton (GBR); McLaren-Mercedes; +01:18.140 4
9 Jenson Button (GBR); McLaren-Mercedes; +01:25.246 2
10 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger; Force India-Mercedes; lapped
11 Mark Webber (Aus); Red Bull-Renault; lapped
12 Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra); Toro Rosso-Ferrari; lapped
13 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus); Toro Rosso-Ferrari; lapped
14 Paul Di Resta (GBR); Force India-Mercedes; lapped
15 Felipe Massa (Bra); Ferrari; lapped
16 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin): Caterham-Renault: lapped
17 Vitaly Petrov (Rus); Caterham-Renault; lapped
18 Timo Glock (Ger); Marussia-Cosworth; lapped
19 Pedro de la Rosa (Esp); HRT-Cosworth; lapped
20 Sergio Perez (Mex); Sauber; retired, 37 laps
21 Charles Pic (Fra); Marussia-Cosworth; retired, 35 laps
22 Narain Karthikeyan (India); HRT-Cosworth; retired, 22 laps
23 Bruno Senna (Bra); Williams-Renault; crash, 12 laps
24 Michael Schumacher (Ger); Mercedes GP; crash, 12 laps
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