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GP Week : Issue 153
I t came down to the nub: Fernando Alonso, recovering brilliantly for Ferrari after a worrisome opening to the year, closing-in on his man. The grandstands weren’t full at the Circuit de Catalunya, for these are hard times in Spain, but there were red or blue shirts, and Ferrari flags, enough on this bright but coolish day north of Barcelona: Fernando was on a Latin charge. The final scene of an astounding script was about to be enacted. ‘His man’, though, remained unperturbed. Pastor Maldonado may be a Spanish- speaking South American; he may at that point still have been considered by many in the F1 pit lane as an over-aggressive rent-a -driver. In reality, he is a very neat and precise ‘straight-line’ driver in the mould of Kimi Raikkonen or Nigel Mansell. And, in his low-key, keep-the-mouth- shut kind of way, he has learned over the years from his mistakes. He lives quietly near Oxford, sharing a house with one of the Williams engineers. On his days off, he hangs out at the factory in Grove, chatting to the engineers or pounding the company treadmill. There is nothing glamorous about Pastor’s life, nothing F1-trendy. He’s just a racing driver who loves his craft. He doesn’t allow the potential fringe benefits to interfere with his line of vision. And so, for Pastor, those last 15 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix were heads- down laps. He’d won GP2 races before; he could win this. Just focus on the structure of the lap. The next corner – and then the next one after that, each with its own little demands. Gentle initial turn. Ease out of the brake pedal. Find a little ‘flat’ section in which to change direction. Squeeze the throttle, avoid the kerb. “Subtle manipulation of the weight transfer,” as Rob Wilson would say. Reduce the time spent ‘cornering’. It’s a scientific exercise, not a race. A set of functions, not a sport... The red car grew ever-closer in his mirrors. Pastor snatched glimpses of it in his peripheral vision. And immediately he focused more on the corner ahead. Don’t go there! Just drive the car: What will be will be. Fernando entered the DRS zone, so close was he now running. The crowd could see that white ‘Santander’ rear wing suddenly flatten on the Ferrari. The Spaniards waved their arms and their flags, shouting as if they could be heard. Fernando was almost there – but at the last millisecond, into Turn 1, he would have to back away, there to remain for another interminable lap. Pastor’s defence, amidst the onslaught, was impeccable: there is the braking marker. Always hit it. Never try to find even a metre. Take the centre-right of the road. Make Fernando work. And so they would paint the lap. Pastor – ‘Pasta’ – as the Willy boys call him – would use those beautiful, faint, initial, tiny turns of the steering wheel in 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> SPAIN