What an action packed Spanish Grand Prix weekend. Full of controversy, excitement and incident with a multitude of talking points. Where to start? There was another mistake from McLaren which led to the exclusion of the driver that set the fastest time in Q3, Lewis Hamilton, from qualifying. Narain Kathikeyan qualifying outside the Q1 107% time, but being allowed to race. A first pole, followed by a first win for Pastor Maldonado. Frank Williams’s 70th Birthday. The fire in the Williams garage after the race, and Michael Schumacher’s crash with Bruno Senna. I can’t possibly go into all of these incidents in detail in a single blog post, but I think it’s possible to draw together a common theme from the majority of these events: maturity.
I think that it would be unfair not to start with a brilliant first win for Pastor Maldonado. Nobody would have predicted pole position for the Venezuelan – albeit an inherited pole after Hamilton’s exclusion – let alone that he would go on to win the race. Indeed, you could have got long odds on both. Maldonado was written off by the majority of fans as a pay driver with little talent when he entered Formula 1 with Williams in 2011. At 26, he was far older than many drivers new to F1 having spent four seasons in GP2, before finally winning that championship in 2010. By the end of his first season in F1, aside from a strong drive at Monaco, which ultimately ended in retirement, he had done little to persuade anyone that he had the talent to win races in the premier class. Maldonado finished 19th in the championship in 2011 after scoring a single world championship point with a 10th place finish at Spa.
With hindsight it’s easy to say that perhaps we were all a little harsh in writing Maldonado off. He was, after all, a GP2 champions, just like Lewis Hamilton. Unlike Hamilton, though, Maldonado took his time to deliver GP2 race wins and the championship; four seasons to Hamilton’s one. Despite being the same age as Maldonado, Hamilton had already completed four Formula 1 seasons, and won the world championship, before Maldonado even entered F1. Maldonado has shown with his outstanding drive in Barcelona, though, that although he has taken much longer to develop as a driver than many of his peers, if he is given a good enough car he has matured to the extent that he can win races.
I’ll continue the theme of maturity by moving on to talk about Lewis Hamilton. I’ve written earlier in the season about the Englishman’s new found consistency and maturity, but after his performance at Barcelona it’s hard not to acknowledge it again. You can imagine that Lewis Hamilton might have been indignant at being excluded from qualifying after being ordered by his engineer to stop on track after his pole lap after a blunder from McLaren meant that his car was under-fueled. This was made all the worse by the fact that Hamilton had taken a brilliant pole position by almost 0.6s. Indeed, the McLaren driver said, before being excluded from qualifying, that “It was a fantastic qualifying session for me…one of the best I ever had”. It must have been incredibly disheartening for that brilliant lap and outstanding performance to have been for nothing. The Lewis Hamilton of 2011, dogged by controversy, incidents and stewards penalties might well have crashed out early in Spain as he desperately tried to make up positions after starting from last, but not so the Hamilton of 2012. The 2008 world champion drove a brilliantly controlled and mature race to take 8th, ahead of his team mate, Jenson Button, who started the race in 10th (having actually qualified in 11th).
Hamilton has received a fair degree of criticism about his driving style. He’s been written off in some quarters as a driver that’s unable to come to terms with the new Pirelli tyres, having been compared unfavourably to his team mate who is known for his smooth driving style and tyre management capabilities. It’s hard not to be impressed that Hamilton showed not only the maturity to drive a controlled race – while at times pulling off some outstanding overtaking manoeuvres – and finish ahead of his team mate, but also the ability to manage his tyres better than anyone else. Hamilton was the only driver to make only two stops at Barcelona, which meant that he had to do an incredible 30 lap final stint. At the end of that final stint many would have expected that Hamilton would be struggling for grip, falling backwards, but that, too, was not the case. Hamilton was actually pulling away from his team mate, who was on fresher tyres, and rapidly catching Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes, who was also on newer rubber. Button said after the race “I am normally good at looking after tyres and having a good consistency, it is something I always work on but I can’t do that at the moment and I don’t know why”, while in contrast Hamilton said when interviewed “I was the only one to do a two stopper, despite everyone always telling me how aggressive my driving style is and how much better my team-mate is on tyres than me. I think today is a good demonstration that they are perhaps wrong”. This must have been an extremely satisfying result for an increasingly mature Lewis Hamilton, who had refused to blame his team for the qualifying fueling error.
I’ll return now to Williams, whose founder Sir Frank Williams was able to celebrate his own ‘maturity’, having just turned 70, with a first win since Juan Pablo Montoya won in Brazil in 2004. Sir Frank and the team’s deserved celebrations were unfortunately cut short by a fire in their garage which left a gutted shell in its wake and resulted in 31 people being seen by circuit medical staff. But out of this adversity came a show of amazing community spirit and maturity from Williams’s rivals who not only helped to extinguish the fire, but also have offered to loan Williams equipment to replace what was lost in the inferno.
There’s always an exception to the rule, though, and my exception to the maturity rule in Spain is Michael Schumacher. At 43 years of age the seven time world champion is certainly old enough, but in my eyes he showed a real lack of maturity in failing to accept complete responsibility for ramming into the back of Bruno Senna’s Williams, putting both drivers out of the race on lap 13. Schumacher amazingly blamed Senna for the crash, but the Stewards disagreed, handing the German a five place grid penalty for the next race – Monaco. With five winners from five different constructors in the opening five rounds of the season I, for one, can’t wait to see what round six brings.