Pastor Maldonado stormed to a maiden Formula One win in Spain, holding off Fernando Alonso and third-placed Kimi Raikkonen to take Williams its first race win since Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2004 Brazilian GP.
Maldonado started from the front of the grid, having inherited pole position when Lewis Hamilton was penalised for a fuel infringement in qualifying and forced to start from last place. However, Maldonado failed to hold beyond the first corner as, after a slow start, Alonso, beat him around the outside into Turn One. As the Ferrari star forged a small gap, it looked the end of Maldonado’s hopes of a first F1 win but in the second stint the Williams driver begin to fight back to maintain a fighting chance of passing the double world champion at some point.
The opportunity came as the second round of stops arrived. Maldonado went to pit lane early, and armed with fresh tyres, put in a series of fast laps that allowed him regain the lead as Alonso struggled on worn rubber in advance of his second stop. An intriguing battle then developed as Alonso, armed with newer tyres, closed the gap and made a series of attempts to pass the Williams. But while he repeatedly closed right up on Maldonado in the first two sectors, he was easily left behind by Maldonado at the end of the final sector and Alonso was left with no chance to use his DRS to move past his rival.
Eventually Alonso, suffering a loss of grip, was forced to back off and Maldonado cruised through the final few laps to take a famous victory. “It’s a wonderful day, not just for me but for all the team,” he said afterwards. “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 tyres – 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. Fernando did a better start than me but I was just following the pace and it was so great. It’s my first podium and my first victory and you can imagine what I feel.”
Alonso, meanwhile, admitted that he could not match the Williams’ pace, though he added that he had suffered an alarming drop in grip levels in the final laps, a loss beyond that expected from tyre wear. “It was close with ten laps to go,” he said. “We were attacking Pastor but then, in the last seven or eight laps, we lost the grip – around Turn Seven I felt. I informed the team some corners after, in Turn Nine, to check if everything is OK because maybe we lost some aerodynamic part of the front wing or under the floor or something because we had no more grip at all.
“We were lucky at the end,” he added. “Second place at home feels fantastic and thanks to the people that came here and the people at home and hopefully a step forward in terms of championship possibilities.”
Alonso’s gratitude for the second place largely stemmed from the charge Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen made in the final stint. A pre-race favourite Raikkonen started the race on Soft tyres, which were expected to give the Lotus, which is gentle on tyres, an early advantage. However, after a first stint in which he largely kept pace with the front pair, a second set of Soft tyres after 11 laps failed to help at all and the Finn faded from view as Alonso and Maldonado stretched their legs.
The choice of tyre defined the Finn’s race. When he took on two sets of Hard tyres late on his lap times rocketed up and he clawed back 20 seconds on the leaders. At the chequered flag he was just half a second adrift of Alonso. “I’m a bit disappointed. I expected us to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning,” said Raikkonen. “At the end we were very good, but it was too late. Maybe we took the wrong choice in the first pit stop. In the end, we were not fast enough in the beginning and that cost us the race.
“I was not so disappointed during the race because I saw that I couldn’t follow them at the beginning. But at the end when you catch them up almost 20 seconds then you get a bit of a disappointed feeling afterwards, when you just needed a few laps to be even able to fight for the first place. That’s racing and at least I scored some good points and we’re going in the right direction.”
Raikkonen’s team-mate Romain Grosjean toiled through a lonely race to fourth, while Kamui Kobayashi, enjoyed his first top-five placing since Monaco last year, with a battling drive that saw him make a number of brave overtaking moves.
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel finished sixth for Red Bull Racing. The German had an eventful afternoon characterised by a drive-through penalty for not heeding yellow flags following a crash involving Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna. He recovered, however, and a late-race surge saw him pass both Lewis Hamilton (eighth) and Nico Rosberg (seventh) in the final laps.
The top ten was rounded by McLaren’s Jenson Button in ninth place and Nico Hulkenberg, who took the final point on offer for Force India.