A rookie challenges the champions at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix [spoilers]
With the grands prix in Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain now behind us, the circus has come back home for the European section of the calendar that kicked off this weekend in Barcelona, Spain. Keep reading to see how it unfolded.
Coming back from a season when Sebatian Vettel took just about every pole position, this season has seen another driver land on pole at nearly every race. Lewis Hamilton took the first two, succeeded by Nico Rosberg, and Sebastian Vettel at the next two up until now. But in Barcelona on Friday a surprise performance by rookie Pastor Maldonado landed Williams on pole. Surely he wouldn't be able to keep it up over the race distance, though...would he?
Hamilton had initially posted the top time in qualifying, but having finished the session without enough fuel for the officials to test, was bumped to the back of the grid. So Fernando Alonso lined up his Ferrari alongside Maldonado, followed by the Lotus cars of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen. Sergio Perez landed his Sauber fifth, followed by Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Vettel (Red Bull), Schumacher (Mercedes), Kobayashi (Sauber) and Button (McLaren), with erstwhile frontrunners Webber (Red Bull) and Massa (Ferrari) relegated to eleventh and sixteenth, respectively.
Off the line, however, Maldonado couldn't keep his Williams ahead of Alonso's Ferrari, and the two-time world champion took a lead he would hold onto uninterrupted for the first 27 of 66 laps. The start had also boded well for Hamilton, Massa and Rosberg, who each advanced several places from the starting grid, but less so for Grosjean who fell behind.
The stage was then set for Alonso, Maldonado and Raikkonen to wage battle up front when Rosberg fell behind in fourth. A long line of cars bottled up behind the German driver who had shown his mettle so aptly two races prior by winning in China.
Things went much worse for his elder teammate on lap 13. Schumacher and Senna collided, spinning off into the gravel. And while Bruno managed to limp back to the pits with a puncture, Schumi was beached and his race was finished. Webber found less drastic setbacks when his Red Bull misbehaved, dropping him further down the field.
After Maldonado retook the lead from Alonso in the second round of pit stops, the third round brought the drama to a head. A jammed wheel gun in the Williams pit box forced the young Venezuelan to rejoin in third behind both Alonso and Raikkonen. Fernando then pitted from the lead and rejoined behind Pastor and Kimi, and the Williams car overtook the Lotus once again for the lead.
Alonso would squeeze past Raikkonen as well, but though he got close, his tires wouldn't hold on long enough to get past Maldonado as well. And so the relative rookie took a hard-fought and well-deserved checkered flag, and in the process became the first Venezuelan to win an F1 race. It was also the first grand prix victory for the Williams team since 2004 when Juan Pablo Montoya won the Brazilian Grand Prix, and came as a welcome birthday gift to team principal Frank Williams who had just turned 70 a few days prior.
Meanwhile Alonso took second place on the podium and Raikkonen claimed third. His team-mate Romain Grosjean sailed to a smooth fourth place, ahead of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi who fought hard for fifth place. The other Sauber car, however, didn't fare as well, having collided with Grosjean and retired after the ensuing pit-stop thanks to an improperly secured wheel over which a mechanic had tripped. The remaining points went to Vettel, Rosberg, Hamilton, Button and Hulkenberg.
The results catapult Alonso into a tied lead with Vettel at 61 points each as Hamilton trails with 53. Raikkonen now holds 49 points in fourth, just ahead of Webber with 48, Button's 45, Rosberg at 41, Grosjean holding 35 and Maldonado now eighth in the standings with 29 points. The combined scores leave Red Bull still firmly in the lead with 109 points ahead of McLaren's 98, Lotus' 84 and Ferrari's 63 as Mercedes and Williams each hold 43.
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