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Williams back on track, while Lotus rack-up the consistency

23:53 17 May 2012

On the rise... You suspect there are few men who have been given such a lift by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Maybe that

On the rise... You suspect there are few men who have been given such a lift by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Maybe that's why Pastor Maldonado is clearly so delighted on the Barcelona podium? More likely, it was the arrival of his first F1 victory and Williams' first in eight years.

It was probably about this time last season when people started reminiscing about Williams. Those glory days of championship-winning cars, legendary drivers and leading innovation and technology.

"We were overwhelmed by the support. It was really impressive…It was a serious issue and I am very grateful indeed"

Quote of the week: Williams operations chief Mark Gillan on F1’s reaction to their paddock fire

And the reason for that? Because they were in the first throes of their worst ever season, as Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado lurched from reliability issue to prang on a fortnightly basis.

I distinctly remember speaking to Caterham chief technical officer – then Team Lotus, of course – Mike Gascoyne about his team’s hopes of chasing the midfield.

Even he found it a little disappointing it was Williams his Hingham outfit were trying to overtake, such is the feeling across Formula One for the Grove constructor and especially team principal Frank Williams.

The reminiscences are out again this week of course – but for much better reasons.

Good week, bad week

GW – Lewis Hamilton: He’s clearly trying hard rather than finding it natural, but it was great to see the Brit show genuine maturity in Barcelona. He already deserves a 2012 win.

BW – Felipe Massa: The Brazilian is being urged in public to up his game by Ferrari, which isn’t a great sign. If he now makes it through the year, it would be some achievement.

Plenty of people – including yours truly – have been critical of Maldonado since starting his rookie season in 2011. Rather than a reputation as a pay driver, the Venezuelan has been known to find a mixture of walls and his fellow drivers with consummate ease. Some of his past behaviour – especially during qualifying in Spa last year – has been deplorable. I still find it hard to understand why he wasn’t chucked out of that weekend.

But that is there to help contextualise what a mature, impressive drive Maldonado displayed on Sunday at Formula One’s true proving ground.

It took place from lights out, as the Venezuelan – more than fairly – drove Fernando Alonso to the very edge in the chase to the first corner.

From there Maldonado was cool and quick, pushing when he needed to and withstanding some serious pressure from a driver you would never want to see in your mirrors.

All of that is enough to make you reconsider your opinion on a driver – after all, even Lewis Hamilton was happy for him.

It was another brilliant race and as will have been said many times before this is published, we now have five constructors and five drivers with a race win this season.

Both championship standings make for fascinating viewing – especially when you compare them to post-Barcelona 2011.

Nigel Mansell said on Monday that F1’s playing field is as level as it has ever been. The FIA’s controls and tweaking have delivered a grid split by hundredths of a second, rather than tenths. By strategy calls and marginal pit stop errors.

And quite rightly, Mansell believes that has made the show better than ever. After what we have witnessed so far in 2012, try finding someone to argue with that.

And the best bit? The next grand prix is in Monte Carlo.

It was a bit of a frantic Sunday in the end, as the race in Barcelona crossed over my duties at Carrow Road for the final football match of the Premier League season.

So it was some time after the event that the news hit me of Williams’ paddock fire in Spain – a truly horrific sight. One where you have to be thankful no one was killed.

With an incident like that, which is so rare, it would be no surprise if some of the emergency procedures in place were a little rusty.

But again, thankfully the fire was controlled in reasonable time and the rest of the Formula One paddock responded immediately to the emergency to help out their Williams colleagues – I don’t think any other response would have been possible. The best thing now is that such an incident reminds everyone about the world they are working in and to make sure the procedures in place make a bad situation better, not worse.

Learning is a buzzword in F1 – and the same should apply to Sunday’s fire.

It was perhaps a cruel coincidence that the emergency took place in the Williams garage little more than an hour after celebrating their first victory since October 2004. But with everyone seemingly safely recovering from the incident, Grove can celebrate its day.

While it seems everyone is taking their turn at the front this season, there is almost a relentless streak in what Hethel-backed Lotus are doing.

The double podium in Bahrain was followed by an excellent third and fourth for Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean respectively in Barcelona. No wins admittedly – and I did have a hunch Kimi would do just that in Spain – but Lotus already sit a comfortable third in the constructors’ championship.

And while the form of Red Bull and McLaren continues to falter, the Norfolk marque seems to have found an envious level of consistency.

Yet Enstone isn’t entirely satisfied – which is understandable when an arguably weaker Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams have all taken a chequered flag this season.

Anyone who has seen Kimi take on Monaco during his first spell in F1 will know what the Finn can do there – Grosjean’s record impresses too. What an occasion that would be. I just wonder…

Now seems a good time to plug our new F1 podcast.

Joining me is a panel of fans and columnists from the area to discuss the circus’ events after each race. We’ll also spend time closely following the fortunes of Lotus and Caterham.

The podcast will be available on Itunes very soon but for now, simply head over to our new page – edp24.co.uk/f1podcast – and as always, to get involved and get in touch, email me via the byline on this story or using the Twitter link on the top right of this page.

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