The Venezuelan inherited pole position following Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying but there was nothing fortuitous about the former GP2 champion’s victory.
The race started with Alonso winning the drag race into the first corner and with his compatriots cheering him on it seemed inevitable that the Spaniard would claim his second victory of the season.
In the opening stint of the race Alonso however was unable to shake off the attentions of Maldonado and the Williams driver started to close the gap to the race leader. From the very early stages of the race the leading duo were able to pull away from Kimi Raikkonen in third and open a healthy cushion to third.
With a comfortable gap behind Williams decided to roll the dice ahead of Maldonado’s second stop and bring the 27 year old in for fresh tyres before he encountered traffic. This was to be an inspired decision and one that would ultimately win them the race.
A stunning in lap and a decent pitstop gave Maldonado a chance to utilise the inherit advantage of fresher tyres to get ahead of Alonso. As has been the case for the last year having fresher rubber is more important than track position and with Maldonado setting fast sector times it was clear that it would be very close when Alonso emerged from the pitlane.
The Ferrari driver however was badly delayed by the Marussia of Charles Pic on what was his intended in lap. The lost time made it impossible for the double world champion to make his stop and keep the race lead.
Ferrari decided to keep Alonso on track for another two laps in a bid to give him a shorter stint after his final pitstop. When Alonso finally made his stop he found himself in second with Maldonado setting a series of stunning lap times to open a seven second lead.
This gave Maldonado the edge in the race and speaking afterwards it was clear how important the quick thinking of the Williams crew was to his victory.
“We did an extremely good strategy today, everything under control,” said Maldonado. “Even some moments when Fernando got too close but we had a little bit better traction than him, using KERS and everything. So it was managing the race, looking for the gaps and the pace.”
Alonso would eventually get within four seconds of the race leader before his last pitstop and with Maldonado delayed by a problematic tyre change the scene was set for a thrilling climax to the Grand Prix.
Maldonado found himself in the lead of the Grand Prix with Alonso closing in fast. The pressure on the Williams driver was immense and with the Spanish crowd baying for a home victory you could sense a mistake from Maldonado.
That mistake never came. Instead Maldonado showed incredible composure and confidence to hold off the charging Alonso and in the final five laps start to open a gap to his pursuer.
Williams had not won a race since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix and the team’s 114th victory will sure be remembered as one of the least expected victories in the history of Formula 1.
The win also marked the fifth different winner in the opening five races, with each coming for a different team. Coming to Barcelona there was no expectation that Williams would be the team to beat but their pace throughout the weekend was impressive and with Monaco next on the calendar the team could be forgiven for placing a bet on number 18 for a second consecutive victory.
Kimi Raikkonen came home an impressive third for a second podium of the season as the Finn continues to impress on his comeback. An intelligent performance on Sunday saw the former world champion save his tyres and close dramatically on the leaders in the final laps. Ultimately he was unable to move past Alonso but another podium shows the promise of the Lotus.
The team came to Barcelona with an air of expectancy for a strong performance and while they would have hoped to have won the race they are once again showing the kind of form that won them titles with Alonso.
Formula 1 2012 may be dominated by the Pirelli tyres and how drivers use them throughout a Grand Prix but with the sport gripped by a series of thrilling races and unexpected victories such as this the health of Formula 1 has rarely been better.