Maldonado's Spanish Grand Prix win another great sign for F-1

Williams Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela celebrates on the podium after his...

Williams Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela celebrates on the podium after his victory in the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, near Barcelona, May 13, 2012. (REUTERS)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 PM ET

In what is quickly turning out to be the most interesting, competitive season in a decade, Formula One got its fifth different race winner in five events on Sunday, with Pastor Maldonado winning the Spanish Grand Prix for Williams.

This is the same Maldonado who was pegged a “pay driver” — meaning he wasn’t deserving of the Williams ride on his own merits — by almost everyone in the sport at the start of the season.

But there was the 27-year-old Venezuelan at the Circuit de Catalunya holding off two-time world champion and hometown-favourite Fernando Alonso to become the first from his nation to win in F-1.

It marks a radical shift in the power balance in the world’s top open wheel series as Sebastian Vettel — who obliterated the gird over the past two championship seasons — struggled again in a sixth place finish for Red Bull Racing, allowing Alonso to get even in championship points.

And the best the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button could do was eighth and ninth, respectively.

Maldonado’s feat was so unexpected that even in the final laps of the 66-lap race, television commentators were convinced that Alonso would eventually pass the Williams Renault because the Ferrari had fresher tires.

Maldonado, however, was confident he would hang on and he did.

“It was so close,” he said. “We were looking to manage the tire degradation so I couldn’t push that hard, just to keep the tires alive for the end of the race and Fernando got very close.”

He said that even when Alonso appeared to close the gap between the two to less than a second with two laps left, he felt he was in control.

“There were some moments where he was so close especially at end of the straight, but I was managing the gap and controlling everything,” Maldonado said.

“Our pace today was very strong, the car was fantastic, so was the team. We did a small mistake at the last pitstop but it did not affect our performance.”

The result certainly sets up the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next month as a pivotal mark in this F-1 season.

DANICA SURVIVES DARLINGTON

She finished 31st, six laps down to winner Jimmie Johnson, but Danica Patrick survived her first trip to the Lady in Black and eaned some praise from her team owner Tony Stewart.

“I’m ecstatic with the results,” Stewart said. “There was a period of the race where she said her balance was at her best, she was within a tenth (of a second) of the leaders at that point in the race.”

As for Patrick she was happy just to get through the gruelling 500-mile race in one piece.

“I don’t think I had an awesome finish, but my goals were to run respectable and I felt like that happened,” Patrick said. “(We wanted to have) times passing and have decent speed and to finish, and we did both of those things.

“I think it was a really successful weekend at a track that could have been a disaster. This is a step in the right direction.”

FINISH LINES

Canada’s Paul Tracy finished eighth in class at the Rolex Grand Am Global Barter 250 at New Jersey Motorsport Park on Sunday driving older model No. 77 Doran Racing Ford DP. The race was won by Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Corvette DP with Ryan Dalziel second in the No. 8 Ford Riley DP. ... A fire in the Williams garage at Catalunya sent at least one team member to hospital with smoke inhalation after the team’s race win On Sunday. There were no other reports of injury ... Perennial NASCAR bad boy Kurt Busch was at it again at Darlington Raceway when he nearly ran over several of Ryan Newman’s pit crew in the late stages of the Southern 500. Busch was angered that Newman squeezed him into the wall and at the end of the race both crews threw punches but did little other damage.

NUTS AND BOLTS

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

It was fitting that five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet deliver Hendrick Motorsports 200th victory Saturday at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

It took races over parts of two seasons for the team to finally award owner Rick Hendrick with the historic marker, but for Johnson it was worth the wait.

He didn’t get much time to savour it as Hendrick already has his eye on the team’s next goal.

“You’ve got to love (Hendrick),” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Two hundred is great, but let’s go get 250.’”

The victory also ended Johnson’s own 16-race winless streak.

Denny Hamlin finished second in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Tony Stewart was third in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet with Kyle Busch in the No. 18 JGR Toyota and Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota rounding out the top five.

FORMULA ONE

Pastor Maldonado became the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race Sunday when he drove his Williams Renault to victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.

It was also the first win for the Williams team since Juan Pablo Montoya won in Brazil in 2004.

“We’ve been pushing so hard to improve since last year and here we are,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado, who started on the pole after top qualifier Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back for a fuel violation, but was quickly passed by Fernando Alonso before the first corner.

He got back the lead on his two pit stops and held off the two-time champion over the final 10 laps.

Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were third and fourth for Lotus, with Kamui Kobayashi fifth for Sauber.

 


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