Fuel bombshell for McLaren

2012-05-13 10:33

BARCELONA, Spain - Formula 1 wished Frank Williams a belated happy 70th birthday ahead of the Spanish GP on Saturday but it was Pastor Maldonado who handed his team boss the best present of all with pole position.

What had looked like an heroic effort became a sensational one when Briton Lewis Hamilton, the only man faster in qualifying, was stripped of pole and sent to the back of the grid because McLaren failed to put enough fuel in the car.

Hamilton had come to a stop at the side of the track, out of fuel and the governing International Automobile Federation, more than four hours later, declared McLaren had breached the technical regulations.


"A team member had put an insufficient quantity of fuel into the car thereby resulting in the car having to be stopped on the circuit in order to be able to provide the required amount for sampling purposes," a statement said.

"As the amount of fuel put into the car is under the complete control of the competitor the stewards cannot accept this as a case of force majeure... the competitor is, however, allowed to start the race from the back of the grid."

McLaren team boss said Hamilton's car had about 1.3 litres of fuel left in it when stopped. The rules say the car must have a litre remaining once back at the pits for a sample to be extracted.

That left Maldonado celebrating his first F1 pole, Venezuela's greatest moment to date in the glamour sport and former World champions Williams' first appearance in the top slot since 2010.

He may not manage to hold off Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, lining up alongside at his home race, but the odds favour him at least.


No F1 driver has won in Barcelona from lower than third place on the grid in 21 years of racing at the Circuit de Catalunya and 20 of those winners have started on the front row.

Maldonado said before the four stewards dropped their bombshell: “I think all the guys in the factory did a wonderful job because the upgrades we have for this race, everything is working on the car.

"Our strongest point has always been in the race so I'm looking forward to Sunday. Actually, we improved, our worst thing was the qualifying pace, so I'm pretty happy for that, pretty happy for the team, for my country, for myself. It's a great job today."

After the decision, his resolve was even firmer. "It's a great moment for the team and for me. And it's the best present ever for Frank Williams," he said. "I hope to have a great race. I'll do my best, we'll see. We have everything and I think the team must be ready for all the situations in the race. But the motivation is there, the mechanics are ready, we're all ready."


Williams turned 70 on April 16, the day after the Chinese GP, but he was not in Shanghai for that race and the one after in Bahrain was held against a backdrop of civil unrest and not deemed the place for a party.

Instead, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, drivers, team principals and a crowd of well-wishers crammed into the Williams hospitality area to hear 1996 champion Damon Hill congratulate the team founder in a “surprise” homage.

"I think Frank thought we were all here because he was finally on the front row of the grid," quipped the Briton. Maldonado, standing next to him, grinned. The microphone gave out as Ecclestone began his speech and Williams could barely be heard either but the team founder's opening comments were clear.

“Pastor, congratulations from the team for a wonderful performance of which we are very proud," he said. It was about to get even better.

Maldonado has scored only four points in four races this season and is 14th overall, Brazilian team mate Bruno Senna has 14. The Venezuelan, a champion in the GP2 support series, still has some rough edges but they are being smoothed out with the help of a car that is a vast improvement on last year's which scored a meagre five points.


That was the worst season yet for Williams, nine times Constructors champion and which has not won a GP since its 113th and last in Brazil in 2004.

"Pastor has become much stronger in race pace and very aggressively fights his position, which is good to see," said Williams' chief operations engineer Mark Gillan of Maldonado's development. "He's a difficult person to overtake, he's very strong mentally.

"I think a win will be tough but based on our race pace (in practice), we were definitely in the race."