It’s only qualifying, but it’s rather encouraging

Sir Frank Williams and his entire team would be the first to point out that no points are awarded on Saturdays in F1. Shoot, they’d probably bite the proverbial hand off if offered a fifth-place finish in exchange for this weekend’s front-row grid slot. As a lover of the suffering team, so would I.

And yet Pastor Maldonado’s second spot in Spain is hugely encouraging, not least because of where it happened, and the conditions in which it happened.

In many ways, the team’s last pole position was “dry” at Interlagos in 2010. Nico Hülkenberg was running on slicks on a damp, drying track and made it work far better than anyone else. But the conditions were the thing, the field was still skewed, tyre-choice notwithstanding.

If you want a Williams front row grid slot attained in a fully dry session, you have to go back to Mark Webber (huge thanks to Speed TV’s Twitter diva @virtualstatman, Sean Kelly, for crunching the numbers here) at Monaco in 2006 – and only thanks to THAT Michael Schumacher Rascasse penalty.

In essence, Williams have not been on the front row in the dry on pure pace since BMW sought fresh pastures, five full seasons ago. Never with Toyota, never with Cosworth – though it’s just a (very) little bit of Williams Renault history repeating.

Pastor Maldonado’s pace today was very real – though I didn’t fully believe it until he went fastest of everybody in the dying moments of Q2. If Hamilton hadn’t pulled half a second out of an orifice probably not mentionable before the Watershed (though perhaps a couple of those tenths came out of the fuel tank?), the Q3 story might have been similar.

Given Bruno’s Q1 crash and Hamilton’s last-gasp flyer, I dare say the end of every single qualifying session elicited howls of one form or another from Williams’ veritable legion of fans.

Latest whispers suggest we might even be treated to a Williams at the sharp end of the grid again tomorrow, but who cares? No points for qualifying – and Williams was never about profiting from others’ misfortune either.

But if the 2012 Williams is on the pace in the dry at Barcelona – the most-driven, best-known track on the F1 calendar for years now, remember, so it’s not like the others dropped the ball – that augurs very well for the race tomorrow and the season more generally.

The team has already eclipsed its 2011 performance but as Sir Frank recently told Autosport, their real target is and always has been far more lofty.

Sunday success is becoming a rather distant memory. Williams’ last podium came courtesy of Nico Rosberg at Singapore in 2008 (2nd), but for those of you who’d discount that particular result it’s Melbourne 2008 (3rd), also Nico’s first ever podium. The team’s last race win was at the happy hunting ground of Interlagos in 2004 with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Based on every race except Bahrain, my rather vocal (and foolishly optimistic?) inner Williams fan is adamant that one or both of these annoyingly long-lived records might perish in the 2012 season.

Now, if we could just avoid mentioning tyres or temperatures, I can bask in blissful self-delusion for at least a few more hours.

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