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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Now, THIS is what F1's all about

There's something magical about the first F1 race in Europe. Sure, the season is a couple of months old, but when the sport returns to its spiritual home, you know the campaign is well and truly started.

That feeling was no more evident than this season, coming after a three week break. Following the political football that was Bahrain, and the first in-season test in some time. It has been a wild year to date, with winners aplenty and a wide-open title race.

So what could possibly happen at a circuit somewhat known for delivering less than exciting races? Surely this is when things will settle out and a true frontrunner will emerge.

Well, think again.

Pastor Maldonado delivers Williams its first victory since 2004.

And we're not talking a Mickey Mouse, chalk it up to rain or other strange conditions win. We're talking a true win. Strong qualifying, good racing, well managed.

It's been quite a while since we thought of Williams as a race winning team, and even longer since it was a championship winning one. In between, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, Brawn and Red Bull have laid their claims, but short of the Scuderia, I think one would be hard-pressed to come up with a team that stirs the passion of Williams.

It's been difficult to see the team slide into hard times. The tension and expectations of the BMW/Ralf/JPM years. Toyota engines. Out in the Cosworth wilderness. All the while knowing the team were still doing innovative things, it just didn't have the total package or sponsorship. Sure there was Nico Hulkenburg's pole, but that was more "right place, right time" type of thing. The last thing we wanted to see was Sir Frank's team heading the way of Tyrrell.

Changes along the way have seen Patrick Head stepping further away. Sam Michael's departure. But when the team turned up in Australia, something was changed. On the heels of perhaps its worst ever campaign, there was something different this year. The team was reunited with Renault power. Williams had a car with a chance of delivering points. Did it have the drivers to pull it off?

Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna... there is no doubt they bring cash. Maldonado has Hugo Chavez's oil money. Senna has, well, his name. Frank Williams was going with pay drivers. But... Senna has shown flashes of something. He's not his uncle, but neither is he a cab driver. And Maldonado... yes, he brings a lot of money, but he did win the GP2 championship. Interesting how so many forget to mention that.

And deliver points they have. Were more sometimes available? Yes. Maldonado should have had those points in Australia. But Senna placed sixth in Malaysia, and both cars finished in the points in China.

But today? Well, obviously, that takes the cake. There are the teams you want to see do well in F1. Sauber, because Peter Sauber saved that team from extinction when BMW went home. And Williams, because of the history. These are the team owners who battle on in an ever changing, more corporate Formula 1. Underdogs. Flag wavers.

Frank Williams turned 70 last month. This is some kind of birthday present.

Photo: Malaysian GP: Bruno Senna (Williams) during the second practice session on Friday, 23 March 2012, Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia by Morio

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