Pastor Maldonado achieved a memorable first win in seven and a half years for the long-embattled Williams F1 team, but the occasion was marred by the hospitalisation of four team mechanics – and five more, four from Caterham and one Force India member – following the outbreak of a horrific fire in the team’s garage following the race.
Reports soon emerged from sources such as BBC.co.uk and Autosport.com that the fire had been caused either by a KERS or fuel explosion, possibly linked to the retired car of Bruno Senna which had been recovered to the pits after stopping out on track. Thick black smoke engulfed the pit lane as fire-trained mechanics from several teams rushed to join the firefighting effort.
The event cast an unhappy shadow over what should have been a memorable day for Williams, whose founder Frank Williams had his entire family at the race to celebrate his 70th birthday. Williams, who has been in a wheelchair for over 25 years following a car accident, was in the garage at the time of the fire but was reportedly evacuated safely.
“I was there when [founder] Frank Williams was giving his speech to everyone,” Williams reserve driver Valtteri Bottas told the BBC website in the aftermath of the inferno. “I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly.”
It was a truly unforgettable day for Williams, which earlier had finally brought to an end a seven-and-a-half year wait for a race victory which has lasted since Juan Pablo Montoya triumphed at Interlagos in 2004. Maldonado drove an impeccable race after being promoted to pole following the earlier disqualification of Lewis Hamilton from qualifying; the Venezuelan stayed competitive after being overtaken into Turn 1 by home favourite Fernando Alonso and his pace over the first two thirds of the race allowed Williams to pit him earlier than Alonso. When the Ferrari ace stopped for the final time on lap 45 of 66, he emerged around 3.5 seconds behind Maldonado, and though the pair were running within one second of one another for several laps, the Spaniard couldn’t find a way past and eventually fell away.
Behind them, the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean capped another fine outing for their squad by finishing third and fourth, while Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi used all his overtaking prowess to make his way past Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg for a fifth-place finish. Behind him, the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Button were left in the dust by cars they would usually be expecting to beat; Nico Hulkenberg managed to hold off a desperate Mark Webber for the final points-paying position.
Even after such a dramatic race, with the progress of Raikkonen, Vettel and Hamilton making the action gripping until the very end, the black smoke of the fire will be for many the enduring image of the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. The pictures in the video below, from the Sky Sports F1 coverage of the incident (I’m no fan, but the BBC’s habit of hanging around the motorhomes robbed them of the best available pictures), show the mechanics of nearby teams including Force India, Toro Rosso, HRT, Marussia and Caterham rushing to help the Williams mechanics fight the fire, and many more were doing the same thing at the rear of the garage.
Mercifully, it does not seem that any of the injuries are serious, and the injured Williams crew members were all rushed to nearby hospitals (the Caterham and Force India mechanics were treated at the Circuit de Catalunya’s medical facilities).
A Williams spokesperson stated in the wake of the fire: “Four team personnel were injured in the incident and subsequently taken to the medical centre. Three are now receiving treatment at local hospitals for their injuries, while the fourth has been released. The team will monitor their condition and ensure they receive the best possible care.
“The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire.”
Whatever the result of that investigation, we can only hope that the injuries to the mechanics, as well as the inevitable damage to Williams’ equipment, will not leave an acrid black cloud hanging over such a momentous day in the team’s recent history.
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