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“Well to be fair, no one ever said he was slow.”
That statement just about sums up the reaction to Pastor Maldonado’s unlikely victory at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Despite being the 2010 GP2 champion, the Venezuelan had quickly gained a reputation for his inability to both avoid the stewards’ ire, and keep his car in one piece – yet for one race, that championship pedigree would shine through.
Enjoying a ho-hum, start to the season, Maldonado had a grand total of one finish to his name in the first four races – a P8 two races prior in China. Forget challenging for a race win, Maldonado’s main preoccupation was fending off the challenge of new teammate Bruno Senna, who had outscored the Venezuelan thanks to two straight top-seven finishes in Sepang and the aforementioned Shanghai.
Likewise the car itself had looked unremarkable, firmly in the lower-middle-class of the F1 pack with a solitary qualifying top-10 in Melbourne its best result. There was no reason to expect anything spectacular from car or driver in Barcelona.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. First Maldonado qualified P2, five tenths off the pole time of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, however he would start the race from pole after Hamilton was disqualified for not having enough fuel on-board to provide a sample. Still, this was no easy stroll from the front for the Venezuelan, as he was passed into the first corner by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, only taking the place back with a successful undercut on lap 25.
From there it was a matter of survival, as he had issues with tyre management, a 6-second pitstop, and the faster cars of Alonso and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen. Somehow he managed it all, finishing 3.195s ahead of Alonso to take the chequered flag.
Adding to what was already a strange Sunday, celebrations at the Williams garage were cut short by a fire 90 minutes after the race that claimed large swathes of their equipment. Maldonado himself was seen carrying his 12-year-old cousin to safety.
Whichever way you cut it, the race was an odd one, and has become even more so in retrospect. Maldonado wasted no time sliding back into the depths of mediocrity, not finishing in the points again until 10 races later at Suzuka, and ended the season in 15th place. Spending three more years in the sport with Williams at Lotus, he would never so much as sniff those heights again, quickly falling back into the habit of ending races in the most expensive way possible.
Will we ever be able to decipher what happened that day in Barcelona? Maybe not, but it nevertheless will go down as one of the more remarkable results in the history of the Spanish Grand Prix.