It’s been a long time since I felt like this while watching a grand prix. And it’s been quite a while since I had goosebumps during a race and felt anxious, afraid and sat on the edge of my seat the whole time. When Pastor Maldonado pulled into parc ferme after winning the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, and instead of screaming and shouting and leaping out of his car, just sat still for a while, it was with great difficulty that I prevented myself from reaching for a handkerchief to get rid of some mysterious moisture that was making its presence felt in my eyes.
You see, the whole time Pastor Maldonado has been in Formula 1 there has been a cloud over his head. Or at least, there ought to have been. People have speculated about how his only claim to an F1 seat was the money his sponsorship deal from the Venezuelan government was bringing in to help keep the Frank Williams squad running. And GP2 champion or not, Maldonado had a fair share of hiccups in his first season of F1 that raised a few eyebrows and had others meaningfully exchanging glances. But once the 2012 season kicked off, the rookie tag was shed, as were the braces from his upper teeth. Williams got Renault power instead of Cosworth, and that early spurt of race pace was indicated at Australia, although the race didn’t end too well for him.
Four races hence, Pastor was all set to start on the front row of the grid for the very first time in his Formula 1 career, his 24th race to be precise. Then news came through that Lewis Hamilton had been stripped of his pole, bumping Maldonado up on the grid, with the very skilled Fernando Alonso lining up next to him. Pre-race buzz was all awash with how Pastor wouldn’t make it past the first couple of corners without being overtaken by a scarlet scorcher. And then, the five red lights went out, and Maldonado proved his pedigree. Even though Alonso got past him at the start, he jumped him in the first round of pitstops and kept him behind with race pace. Towards the closing stages of the grand prix he even played the Spaniard when pace was failing him. He slowed down enough for Alonso to catch up to him and hope to pass him, and when the Spaniard had done enough to ruin his own set of tyres, Maldonado put his foot down and maintained his lead. One checkered flag and one subdued radio message later, he was sitting in his car, taking a moment out before celebrating with his team. Frank Williams, in the meanwhile, got a wonderful 70th birthday present from his driver.
While Maldonado was busy winning the race, Michael Schumacher was putting his hands up on his helmet and throwing his steering wheel out of the car in frustration after crashing out of the race. Nine years ago, when Fernando Alonso won the Hungarian Grand Prix, Schumacher had looked on from eighth place. Even though it would be a full year and a half before Alonso wrested the crown away from him, it was the start of the new order. This time it was Alonso looking on. And Pastor Maldonado, along with some of the other young guns who’ve made it to the podium in 2012, represents the new order of Formula 1. The circle of life, eh?
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