Maldonado drives Williams to F1 spotlight

After setting the fastest qualifying result by a Venezuelan driver, Pastor Maldonado wants to shift gears and help Williams return to the top of Formula One.

Updated: May 13, 2012 11:37 IST
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Barcelona: After setting the fastest qualifying result by a Venezuelan driver, Pastor Maldonado wants to shift gears and help Williams return to the top of Formula One.

Maldonado will start the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday behind McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, Williams' first spot on the front row for nearly two years. ( Update: Maldonado on pole after Hamilton is docked to the last spot)

Williams may trail only Ferrari and McLaren in total F1 race victories, but it hasn't won since the 2004 Brazilian GP.

The British team's offseason shake-up in the technical and management departments is producing returns through Maldonado and Bruno Senna, who have accumulated more than three times as many points as all of last season.

"We have the capacity and I think we are showing everyone," Maldonado said from the Catalunya Circuit on Saturday. "I think that I'm lucky, I'm lucky to have not only a sponsor behind me but also a country behind me, pushing me so hard.

"I have a mission, which is to be back with Williams to the top."

Williams' improved performance is well-timed as an unpredictable F1 season develops, with four different race winners to start. While Maldonado trailed Hamilton by half a second, strategy and tire degradation have changed the order of nearly every race, and that could carry through for Sunday's 66-lap contest.

"To see them up here again, I think Formula One's just not been the same without Williams being at the front, competing," Hamilton said. "I've always thought they had quite a good car, it always looked quite beautiful but I think this year it's performing as well as looking good, so we'll definitely be on our toes to try and make sure we're ahead of them."

A technical reshuffle has especially boosted the British team after scoring just five points to finish ninth in the constructors' championship last year.

"The foundations were good, but in the race we were not," Maldonado, who has four points, explained. "This year we worked off of that."

Maldonado crashed out of the season-opening Australian GP while pressing Fernando Alonso's Ferrari from fifth, which could have added further to the 18 points collected this season.

One of the most notable changes in the engineering department was the arrival of technical director Mike Coughlan. It's Coughlan's first job since being fired as McLaren's chief designer due to his central role in the spygate scandal of 2007 when he was found with 800 pages of confidential Ferrari technical information.

"Given where we were a couple of months ago, today is great," chief operations engineer Mark Gillan said. "Pastor has gotten a lot out of the races, he's got a good attitude and he's really strong mentally. But having a better car helps (too)."

Williams also abandoned veteran racer Rubens Barrichello for Senna, the nephew of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna, this season. Senna, who has 14 points, starts 17th after a troublesome qualifying session.

Family and friend were celebrating Maldonado's front row start in the Williams motor home, where team principal Frank Williams was celebrating his 70th birthday. For Williams, who pines for a first victory since Juan Pablo Montoya scored No. 113 for the team at Interlagos, the future looks brighter.

"I'll do my best," Maldonado said, "I'm a fighter."

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