2016 saw Williams take a step back compared to where they were in 2014 and 2015. Their last win back in 2012 seems a long time ago, yet it will last in our memories forever. It was a truly incredible race…
The seeds of the team’s victory were sown in Friday Practice. Pastor Maldonado was of course driving for them back then, and his pace in practice was quite eye opening. The FW34 just dialled into the track almost instantly, and Maldonado looked like he could be a serious threat in qualifying – and he was. He made it into Q3 when teammate Bruno Senna didn’t and in the dying seconds stuck his Williams onto pole position! Alas it was short lived, as Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren stole the show…momentarily. Later that day, Hamilton was excluded from qualifying for not providing a 1 litre sample of fuel to the FIA. This promoted Maldonado to pole and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso onto the front row alongside him…
Most people regarded Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus as the favourites for the victory. The Lotus had shown incredible speed in practice and looked after its tyres better than any car on the grid. Romain Grosjean was also there in his E20 and was equally being treated as a threat. As the lights went out, the Williams and Ferrari went side-by-side into turn one but Alonso edged out Maldonado. Many then thought Alonso would run away with the victory. But he didn’t, and the Williams stuck to him like glue. Raikkonen was also there, still hanging onto the leading pair.
The first pitstops came and went, with Alonso retaining the lead. But Maldonado was driving superbly and had great pace in his FW34, closing the gap to Alonso as the second stops approached. Williams, so often conservative, took a gamble and pitted their man first in an attempt to undercut the Ferrari. It worked. Alonso pitted on lap 27, two later than Maldonado and the Williams breezed past the Ferrari. The fight was well and truly on! Lotus meanwhile had made an error, pitting for soft tyres at their first stops and not hards like the two leaders. When the E20’s went onto the prime tyre, their pace was much better and faster than the leaders…a costly error had been made.
“This second place feels like a victory. Having finished the race in Sakhir almost a minute off the winner, today we overtook one of the two Red Bulls and we fought right to the very end for the win”
Meanwhile, everyone’s heart at Williams must have skipped a beat when their was a delay at Maldonado’s last pitstop. Fortunately, it didn’t cost him the lead but it did allow Alonso to be much closer when he emerged from his last stop. Alonso closed in on the Williams and was soon within DRS range. But Maldonado, persevering his tyres like a genius, did not budge and wouldn’t allow the Ferrari to pass. Alonso then ran into tyre issues and dropped back, and Raikkonen, who had stopped later than the pair, was closing in rapidly on the Ferrari.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling winning my first race. The car felt really consistent, was fantastic to drive and our pace was strong throughout”
None of this bothered Maldonado though. He pulled away from Alonso and shocked the world of Formula 1. He took his first ever victory and Williams’ first since Juan Pablo Montoya won in Brazil back in 2004. It also marked the first win for a Venezuelan in Formula 1. No one would have predicted this result, particularly after Williams’ shocking 2011. Alonso managed to hold off Raikkonen and stay in 2nd place.
Williams have not won since that day and Maldonado is no longer in the sport. A falling out with the team in 2013 saw him leave for Lotus, whose pace sadly tailed off in 2014 and ’15. He was retained by the team for 2016 as the team became Renault once again. Sadly, his funding from PDVSA fell through and he was replaced by Kevin Magnussen. Pastor had his critics, but he was a fantastically fast racing driver who did get better in 2015 in my opinion. And don’t forget, he took the last victory for the Williams team. For now that is….