Spanish GPR Recap: Maldonado, Williams reap victory over Alonso & Raikkonen

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Pastor Maldonado held off Fernando Alonso to take his maiden F1 victory in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, after losing the lead to second place finisher Alonso into the first turn. He regained the lead with good pit strategy from Williams and held off a late race charge from Alonso. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium, coming close to catching the leaders in the final laps. Tire degradation and strategy played a large part in the race, but there was plenty of scrapping to be had as Lewis Hamilton fought his way up to eight after starting last, and Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, and Mark Webber started out of their usual positions. Williams had a very good day, taking its first win in years, but for teammate Bruno Senna, the race ended early when Michael Schumacher ran into the back of him in an incident that took both of them out and will be investigated after the race.

Though Hamilton (1:21.702) posted a time in Q3 that put him a half second faster than Maldonado, the Briton stopped on the circuit on his in lap without enough fuel to both make it to parc ferme and still have enough remaining to be tested by the FIA. After the stewards’ investigation, Hamilton was excluded completely from qualifying and Maldonado (1:22.285) received pole, moving up from his second place qualifying position. It had been an exciting Saturday qualifying session even without the investigation, with Button and Webber knocked out in Q2 and Alonso holding provisional pole for a few moments after the checkered flag fell. Most of the Q3 runners went out only for a single run in the final two minutes of the session, but both Maldonado and Hamilton bettered the Spaniard’s time. Vettel, Schumacher, and Kobayashi all aborted their final laps in Q3 and set no times. Maldonado and Alonso made the front row, with Grosjean and Raikkonen completing the second row after Hamilton’s penalty, the Perez and Rosberg starting on row three. Alonso (1:24.430) had been quick in Friday morning’s practice, as had Button (1:23.399) in the afternoon, while Vettel (1:23.168) led the final Saturday morning practice.

Race Start:
There was some sun streaming through the clouds as the lights went out to begin the sixty-six lap race. Hamilton started on the soft tyre in his final grid position, as did the rest of the field. Maldonado pushed Alonso almost into the grass, hoping to save his first position, but Alonso was ahead and fully into the lead into Turn 2. Rosberg managed to move up on the Lotus cars, as Raikkonen passed his teammate, leaving room for Rosberg to get through on Grosjean. Perez had a puncture and went well wide, leaving the entire field by. Behind, Webber and Di Resta came into contact as the Australian passed the Scot.

Alonso led by more than a second at the end of the first lap, with Maldonado, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Schumacher, Vettel, Button, Kobayashi, and Vergne the top ten. Hamilton was twentieth, though he had made it up to nineteenth at one point. Perez, on his new set of hard tyres, was faster than the rest of the field, though he sat in last place. Meanwhile, Rob Smedley encouraged Massa to just get around Vergne and get into the points. As he completed laps, Alonso maintained his lead over Maldonado as around 1.3s.

First Pit Stops Begin (L7):
Webber changed to the hard tyre from fourteenth, beginning the pit stop window. Teammate Vettel followed him in on the next lap. At the front, Alonso had gained a couple tenths on Maldonado, who had two and a half seconds over Raikkonen, as Raosberg had dropped off behind the top three. Kobayashi pitted on L9, with Rosberg, Button, and Di Resta doing so on L10. Meanwhile, Hamilton had pushed Hulkenberg into going wide and continued his move through the field. Alonso pitted on L11, as the gap had closed to just over a second. Grosjean, Schumacher, Vergne, Massa, and Hulkenberg joined him as Ferrari just barely stacked their pitstops. The Italian team pulled off the double stop without any waiting for Massa.

End L10:
The order was entirely shaken up with just over half the field having stopped in the first few laps. Maldonado and Raikkonen pitted on L12. Both Mercedes drivers and both Lotus went from soft tyres to soft again, against the grain of the rest of the field. After pitting, Grosjean came out right next to Senna, with both drivers looking for the same bit of apex through Turn 1, with Senna losing a bit of front wing. Just behind them sat Schuamcher, looking for an opportunity to pass either or both.

On the next lap, Schumacher went to duck underneath Senna into Turn 1, but appeared to have misjudged how close they were in the braking zone, and ran into the back of Senna. The contact immediately ended Schumacher’s race into the gravel, as Senna attempted to limp back to the pits but pulled off to end his own race.

Hamilton pitted on L15, but ran over something on his way out of the stall, possibly a tyre. He continued but lost a bit of time. Back on the track, Grosjean blew by Rosberg in the DRS zone. As L17 ended, Alonso led Maldonado by just over two seconds, with Maldonado, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Rosberg, Vettel, Button, Kobayashi, Di Resta, and Vergne the top ten. The top three still had a safe lead over the rest of the field. Webber suddenly lost a number of positions with a loss of front wing load, then stopped for a new front wing. Perez made his own second stop around the same time. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Massa were close together and fighting over eleventh position. At the front, Alonso looked to be losing a good bit of time to Maldonado, but Karthikeyan managed to hold both up enough to maintain the gap between them.

Second Pit Stops Begin (L23):
Rosberg made his second stop on L23, with Mercedes giving him a solidly quick stop. At about that time, word came that Vettel and Massa were under investigation for a passing under yellow incident. Meanwhile, the Senna/Schumacher incident will be investigated after the race. Heading into Turn 1 and through the DRS zone, Hamilton looked to go around the outside of Massa to take the position, but could not make it stick. At the front, having just lost nearly three seconds to Alonso, Maldonado made his second stop on L25. He came out with clear track in front of him, despite a stopped Karthikeyan on the grass at pit out.

At the same time, Pic compromised Alonso’s lap as Maldonado went even quicker on the new tyres. Button pitted on L26 with a massive flat spot, with Ricciardo following him into pit lane. Alonso pitted on L27, losing the lead to Maldonado despite a clean, quick stop. Behind them, Grosjean and Kobayashi also pitted, with Raikkonen and Vettel doing so on the next lap. Hamilton again attempted an outside pass on Massa, but could not make it work as the Brazilian continued to hold him off. Vettel, then Massa, was assessed a drive-through penalty for not slowing under yellow flag positions. Massa immediately pitted, and Vettel did so on L31.

Halfway (L33):
At halfway, Maldonado had seven seconds on Alonso, with Raikkonen, Grosjean, Hamilton (who had stopped only once with badly degrading tyres), Rosberg, Button, Kobayashi, Vettel, and Hulkenberg the top ten. Webber, Vergne, Di Resta, Ricciardo, Perez, Massa, Kovalainen, Petrov, Glock, Pic, and de la Rosa the rest of the field running. Kobayashi looked to shove his way through into seventh around Button, after the Briton went a bit wide. The Japanese driver kissed wheels with Button, but both continued on without damage beyond a bruised ego. Kobayashi looked to push his way through on Rosberg as they rapidly caught Hamilton.

Meanwhile, Alonso was also gaining on Maldonado. Hamilton finally pitted for his second stop on L36, finally getting a clean pit stop. McLaren planned for it to be his last stop. He rejoined behind a train of cars, barely behind Di Resta in fourteenth. Pic lost twentieth position to de la Rosa with a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags. He pitted and pulled into the garage. Alonso continued to gain on Maldonado in the middle of their tyre cycle while further back Vettel easily went around the outside of Button through the DRS zone for seventh.

Third Pit Stops Begin (L40):
Button pitted at the end of that lap for his third stop. His teammate was in the midst of fighting with both Toro Rossos, pushing hard to take first Ricciardo, then Vergne. Soon thereafter Perez pitted, with the right wheel man sliding alongside the car and indicating that the wheel was attached. It was not, as Perez pulled off a few turns after rejoining. More drivers pitted while Di Resta, Massa, and Button fought for twelfth. The latter two managed to get by the Scot, then Button swept by in the DRS zone. Maldonado made his third stop, after Alonso had gotten very close, but had a particularly long pit stop with left rear issues and lost a good bit of time to his rival. Alonso led over Raikkonen by nearly fourteen seconds, with Maldonado just over sixteen seconds behind Alonso. In that timing, Ferrari would not have time to pit Alonso and get him back out in front of the Venezuelan.

Meanwhile, Vettel pitted for his own new front wing, with the possibility that the winglets on the sides were failing for the Red Bull drivers. Alonso pitted on L45 as Maldonado began catching up Raikkonen. Again, Ferrari had a clean stop. Both Raikkonen and Maldonado went by as Alonso rejoined, but Raikkonen still had to stop. The Finn continued to lead, leaving Alonso just three seconds behind Maldonado. The Venezuelan looked increasingly unhappy behind the Lotus as Alonso caught the both of them.

Raikkonen did not pit as twenty laps remained but lost the lead as L47 began as Maldonado passed him in the DRS zone. Alonso was right behind Raikkonen, with Grosjean, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, and Hulkenberg the top ten. Alonso dove out from behind Raikkonen on the straight and went easily by before he even made it to Turn 1. Raikkonen finally stopped on L49, rejoining ahead of Rosberg.

By L50, Alonso was less than a second behind Maldonado. He was just too far behind to pass into Turn 1, but he was right behind with just over fifteen laps to go. Meanwhile, Raikkonen continued to catch his teammate on his fresh tyres. Grosjean was eighteen second behind Alonso. The Frenchman pitted on L52, leaving the track clear for Raikkonen. Meanwhile, Maldonado and Alonso were catching Massa to lap him. The Brazilian allowed both to pass easily, with Maldonado easing by with the aid of DRS. Soon, though, Maldonado clawed back his gap to more than a second, weaving his way through the backmarkers. It was a duel of lap times and secotars as Alonso got it back down to less than a second and within the DRS zone. In third, Raikkonen continued to push, gaining more than a second a lap, but with sixteen seconds to Alonso and just ten laps to go, the tyres would have to dramatically degrade for the Finn to really catch the two leaders.

10 Laps Remaining:
Maldonado led Alonso, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Rosberg, Kobayashi, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, and Hulkenberg as the top ten. Only the Red Bulls were close behind the driver ahead, with Vettel looking at Button for eighth and Webber the same on Hulkenberg for tenth. Alonso took a serious look on Maldonado as L58 began, but held off on the pass. Vettel made his pass stick on Button, with no contact between the world champions. Maldonado continued to gain on Alonso, leaving Alonso without DRS to catch the Williams, and nearly two seconds to make up with six laps to go. Kobayashi managed to pass Rosberg, after fighting with him for much of the race, for fifth.

As Maldonado looked safe in the lead with five to go, Vettel continued to push Hamilton for seventh. The German made his way by in the DRS, shooting away to a 2.4s gap within a single lap. In the end, Maldonado had saved his tyres enough to take his first win. Further back, Rosberg managed to pip Hamilton to seventh in a final lap scrap.

Final Positions, 2012 Spanish Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamGapPit
1. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams3
2. Fernando AlonsoFerrari3.13
3. Kimi RaikkonenLotus3.583
4. Romain GrosjeanLotus14.73
5. Kamui KobayashiSauber64.63
6. Sebastian VettelRed Bull67.54
7. Nico RosbergMercedes77.93
8. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren78.12
9. Jenson ButtonMcLaren85.23
10. Nico HulkenbergForce India1 Lap3
11. Mark WebberRed Bull1 Lap3
12. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1 Lap3
13. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1 Lap3
14. Paul Di RestaForce India1 Lap3
15. Felipe MassaFerrari1 Lap4
16. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1 Lap3
17. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1 Lap3
18. Timo GlockMarussia2 Laps3
19. Pedro de la RosaHRT3 Laps4
 Sergio PerezSauber29 Laps3
 Charles PicMarussia31 Laps3
 Narain KarthikeyanHRT44 Laps2
 Bruno SennaWilliams54 Laps
 Michael SchumacherMercedes54 Laps1
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