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Race - magnificent Maldonado puts Williams back on top 13 May 2012

Podium (L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari, race winner Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams and Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012 and Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34 battle at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012 and Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34 battle at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8 and Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27 at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03 collides with Bruno Senna (BRA) Williams FW34.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Bruno Senna (BRA) Williams FW34 in the gravel.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03 is craned away.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8 battle.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Race winner Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pastor Maldonado was the hero of Barcelona on Sunday afternoon. The Venezuelan’s speed in his Williams FW34 came out of left field on Saturday, and in the race he became the fifth different winner this season and the seventh in seven races when he steered it to the British team’s first victory since Brazil 2004.

And Maldonado did it the hard way, fending off a hungry Fernando Alonso who burst through to the lead for Ferrari for the first 27 laps. At that stage it seemed a foregone conclusion, especially as the Lotus’s expected speed didn’t arrive until it was too late.

But Maldonado moved ahead after the second round of pit stops, and by then Alonso’s challenge seemed broken. After the third stops, however, the Spaniard got his second wind and the gap shrank steadily and by the 48th lap the race was back on, as Alonso never looked more dangerous.

On the 57th of the 66 laps he had a little look down the inside in Turn One but thought better of it, and like Lotus’s’ Kimi Raikkonen on Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain, that was all he got. Maldonado held his nerve and as the Ferrari’s tyres started to go away again, he pulled away to win by 3.1s.

Behind them, Raikkonen finally got going in the third stint and slashed an 18-second gap to Alonso to just over half a second by the chequered flag. The Spaniard said something went wrong with his car as it began to lose grip, while the Finn said he was disappointed that his car - one of the pre-race favourites - just wasn’t fast enough when it really mattered.

It was still a good day for Lotus as Romain Grosjean was an easy fourth. Behind him, Kamui Kobayashi survived a brush when overtaking McLaren’s Jenson Button to take an excellent fifth for Sauber, who lost Sergio Perez early on after the Mexican collided with Grosjean in the first corner and had to make a pit stop at the end of Lap One. Later after a mechanic fell over the right-rear wheel during a stop, Perez lasted only as long as it took him to figure out that the wheel was not properly secured.

Vettel fought tooth and nail for sixth, his race including a nose change as he struggled to make headway. On fresher tyres he caught and passed the McLarens and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in the closing laps to snatch a useful eight points, which was not bad going since he received a drive-through penalty too for ignoring yellow flags.

Rosberg just held on to seventh by 0.2s as McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton launched a late attack. The Briton drove a brilliant fighting two-stop race from the back of the grid, jumping to 19th place by the end of the first lap and then steadily picking people off - including both Toro Rossos on Lap 39 - but he was always going to be on his back foot coming from such a long way behind. He was also lucky on the first lap to miss a wayward Perez as the Mexican veered back on to the track right in front of him in Turn Two. But still there was a pit-stop problem as he clipped a used tyre leaving the pit after his first stop. Luckily there was no serious damage.

Team mate Button was an unhappy ninth, struggling all day for grip and weathering that brush when Kobayashi caught him by surprise. Neither McLaren driver had the grip left to fend off Vettel by the end.

Nico Hulkenberg took the final point for Force India after a super battle which included keeping a delayed Mark Webber behind despite some side-by-side moments. The Australian, like his Red Bull team mate, had to have the nose changed during his first stop.

Jean-Eric Vergne was close behind him at the end after a great scrap with Toro Rosso team mate Daniel Ricciardo, while Force India’s Paul di Resta was an unhappy 14th after a big fight with all of the foregoing four drivers, and a lot of defensive driving at the end to keep Felipe Massa’s Ferrari in his mirrors. The Brazilian was another to get a drive-through penalty for a yellow flag infringement.

This time Heikki Kovalainen comprehensively beat Caterham team mate Vitaly Petrov, and Timo Glock was Marussia’s only finisher after first-lap spinner Charles Pic was further delayed by a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags and then retired with mechanical problems.

Pedro de la Rosa was the final finisher for HRT, after team mate Narain Karthikeyan fell prey to mechanical problems, and besides Pic and Perez the retirements included Bruno Senna and Michael Schumacher. The German ran into the back of the Brazilian in Turn One on the 12th lap. Schumacher later criticised Senna, but Senna said his tyres were shot and that knowing Schumacher’s to be fresher he was trying to move left out of his way when the misunderstanding occurred. Schumacher was later handed a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Monaco by the race stewards for causing the collision.

So a remarkable race with the fairy tale ending that Alonso denied Sauber in Malaysia provided a superb present for Sir Frank Williams only days after his 70th birthday.

It moves Alonso to joint first place in the drivers' championship with Vettel, both with 61 points, but with the German stays ahead on count back. Hamilton’s great damage limitation run keeps him in play with 53 with Raikkonen on 49, Webber 48, Button 45, Rosberg 41, Grosjean 35, Maldonado 29 and Perez 22. In the constructors’ stakes Red Bull have 109 to McLaren’s 98, Lotus’s 84, Ferrari’s 63, Mercedes and Williams on 43 apiece and Sauber on 41.

It was a tremendous day for Maldonado, who has come in for criticism in the past for some of his driving, but he never put a wheel wrong and thoroughly deserved a racer’s win. Small wonder that on the podium Alonso and Raikkonen hoisted him on to their shoulders to help him celebrate a fantastic triumph.

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