I sit and write this well after most discussion on one of the better Spanish GPs has already ceased. I’d like to pretend that is because the time gives me an opportunity to think and reflect, but, that is probably not the case. Be that as it may, Spain has only reaffirmed how crazy this year has been so far.
Of course the main headline for everyone is Pastor Maldonado sustaining prolonged pressure from Fernando Alonso. As much as I have to appreciate the win and all that it signifies, I still have to reserve judgement on the man of the hour. The fact of the matter is that this is still the same man who had been nothing but clumsy all of last year (there were some good drives but recall Spa 2011). That is not to say that the Williams was overwhelmingly fast, that honor goes to the Lotuses.
What this race has shown is that qualifying and efficient passing are the most important parts of a weekend. If the car behind cannot get past on the first attempt, the understeer that comes from following closely overheats the front tires making it that much harder to follow closely. Just look at Alonso after his first attempt. The better strategy, it seems, is to attack hard and back off if the pass doesn’t work to try again in another couple laps. We saw this with Kimi Raikkonen in Bahrain as well.
This race has also shown, unlike any race thus far, the depth of skill in the current F1 paddock. All the ills and poor performances of Maldonado have not gone away, he has just also shown his ability to be just as competent as he is incompetent. I am not trying to claim that the drivers up and down the grid are as good as Alonso or Vettel or Hamilton, just that all the drivers, in the right car, can win a race. Drivers show their ability not when they lap consistently, which is exactly what Maldonado did, but when they actively attack or defend for position. Maldonado did have to defend and he was under pressure, but not the same as Vettel in the laps before the red flag in Monaco, for example.
While there are tons of other things of note, the most important relating to Maldonado is the apparent resurgence of Williams. Did Williams just get it right this time or have they just gotten it seriously wrong in these other races? My inclination is to argue that they got a bit lucky. I say that because of the track temperature difference between race day and practice on Saturday. We know how narrow the window is for the Pirelli tires. I think they set up their car for qualifying and Maldonado put in an amazing lap but with the changes in temperature, a setup that should have ruined their tires was in fact manageable. Only time will tell.