It was a day of highs and lows for Williams F1. First, Pastor Maldonado drove a perfect race to win his first grand prix (and the first for Venezuela). Then, during the team’s post-race celebrations, a fire ravaged through their pit garage, destroying everything in its path and injuring four team members.
The cause of the fire was unknown on Sunday evening, but the team suspected that an electrical fault had ignited some fuel at the back of the garage and the ensuing inferno sent flames billowing into the sky. It took 15 minutes for a fire engine to appear, by which time much of Williams’ garage awning was destroyed.
Luckily, the team has six lots of garage equipment that travels around the world as sea freight. The container that’s recently back from Melbourne can be raided for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.
After the race, team boss Frank Williams only wanted to focus Maldonado’s fabulous race. “He drove quite brilliantly,” said Frank. “He was very cool under a lot of pressure from [Fernando] Alonso and he deserves all the plaudits he gets.”
It was Williams’ first win since 2004, when another Spanish-speaker – Juan Pablo Montoya – won the Brazilian Grand Prix in his last race for the team. Will this be the first of many for the team in 2012?
Of the top three drivers, Kimi Raikkonen in third place seemed to be the least chipper after the race. He was typically monosyllabic and surprised even the Finnish journalists in the pressroom when asked to say a few words in his own language during the unilateral television interviews.
“Happy Mothers’ Day, mum” was the direct translation into English, and that’s all he said. There was no mention of his race for his Finnish fans.
Another unhappy driver on raceday was Nico Rosberg, but he had a long face BEFORE the start. He stayed up late on Saturday night to watch the final of the DFB Pokal (for our English readers, that’s the German equivalent of the FA Cup) and saw his favourite team, Bayern Munich, beaten 5-2 by Borussia Dortmund.
“It wasn’t a great match for us,” said Nico over breakfast. “But the most important game lies ahead: the Champions League final against Chelsea. I’ve been invited to the match next week, but I’m going to stay home in Monaco and watch it on my sofa. If we win that game, what happened last night won’t matter!”
No-one make any noise! The Formula One paddock was unusually quiet on Saturday morning and it might have had something to do with what went on the night before. There were parties galore and it seems few people held back.
The festivities started at Sauber, who served up Tequila slammers from 1830, and then moved to Red Bull, where Japanese sake was the tipple of choice. The hard core then moved to the Paddock Club, where Ferrari sponsor Santander offered dinner and wine. Enough to take the edge off anyone’s morning.
The Santander party had the added twist of having a magician on stage. El Magico did some card tricks, much to the fascination of Fernando Alonso. The double champ loves playing tricks on his mechanics and marvelled at the magician’s slight of hand.
There were more celebrations last night, when Frank Williams celebrated his 70th birthday. His big day was in fact Monday 16 April, the day after the Chinese Grand Prix, but he elected to celebrate it here, with his F1 friends and colleagues in F1, in the Williams motorhome.
The attendance list was a Who’s Who of F1. All of the drivers and team bosses came along; the compere for the evening was 1996 world champion Damon Hill and Bernie Ecclestone was the guest speaker. Everything was utterly mega, except for the microphone, which proved temperamental…
“Thanks for coming,” said Frank. “Now you’ve all got jobs to do, so go and do them!”
Adding to the celebratory mood at Williams was the fact that Pastor Maldonado had just taken his first pole position in F1, following Lewis Hamilton’s exclusion from qualifying for a technical infringement. The only people smiling as much as Frank and Pastor were those people who’d backed Pastor at 500/1!
Amazingly, Pastor hadn’t been in Q3 since Melbourne. “The car has been competitive all weekend,” he said, “so I knew I’d have a good qualifying session. But perhaps not this good!”
The start of F1’s European season is welcomed by the F1 paddock. Everything becomes that little bit easier: the motorhomes give everyone a bit more space, the transporters provide an almost unlimited number of spare parts and everyone is pleased to be back at a proper racetrack.
Barcelona is one of the faster tracks on the calendar, with an average lap speed of 200kph. But even that speed is made to look fairly pedestrian when compared to Mugello, where 11 of the 12 teams tested last week. The cars were averaging 235kph around the Italian circuit and the slowest corner on the lap was still taken at 150kph!
“To drive an F1 car around Mugello was awesome,” says Mark Webber. “It’s a romantic venue and it’s very, very fast. It was a good work-out in the cockpit and it reminded me why I strived so hard to get into F1 in the first place.”
Webber’s love of Mugello was felt up and down the pitlane. MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS star Nico Rosberg described the track as “very impressive”, while seven-time champ Michael Schumacher – who did many laps there for Ferrari – said it was, “great to be back.”
Away from the Mugello test, the teams used the three-week after Bahrain to nail some promotional activities with their drivers. Jenson Button did a street demonstration in Budapest in a two-year-old McLaren, while Nico Rosberg went even further back in history to drive Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1955 Mercedes W196 at Hockenheim’s DTM season-opener.
But being an F1 driver isn’t only about driving. World champion Seb Vettel and Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov took part in a charity football match in Florence; Felipe Massa attended the Sao Paulo IndyCar race as a guest of his chum Rubens Barrichello and Lewis Hamilton went to see his friend, music superstar Jazzy Jeff, in a recording studio.
Most importantly, however, we want to wish MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Grand Prix team principal Ross Brawn a swift return to health. He’s missing this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix and we look forward to seeing him back in the F1 paddock in Monaco.