Triumphant Maldonado proves a point for Venezuela

Triumphant Maldonado proves a point for Venezuela

Pastor Maldonado started Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix with the expectation of a nation on his back and ended it as a winner, hoisted aloft on the shoulders of champions and covered in champagne.

Then, with his Williams team garage in flames and the pit lane filled with thick black smoke, he carried his 12-year-old cousin to safety.

Away from the heat, the first Venezuelan to triumph in Formula One could savour a first win for his success-starved Williams team in nearly eight years, and revel in the plaudits of a proud president.

"I said so: Our Pastor Maldonado won, making history. Bravo Pastor! Congratulations to you and all your fighting team! We shall overcome!," tweeted a delighted Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in Spanish.

The fire that gutted the team's garage at the Circuit de Catalunya after they had posed for a pit lane victory photograph, was a bitter end to the day and sent nine team staff to the medical centre.

With his young cousin Manuel picked up piggyback, the silver trophy dangling by his side, Maldonado made a safe exit. As he did so, he shrugged off an unwanted reputation as a driver whose presence on the starting grid owed more to money — in the shape of millions of dollars from state oil company PDVSA — than real talent.

While the first three letters of PDVSA could now stand for Pastor Delivers Victories, those around him were not as surprised as the commentators.

"He did a great job, he's a very happy boy, he deserves to be," said team founder and principal Frank Williams after Maldonado had been showered in bubbly by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen.

Both champions lifted him aloft on the podium.

"He fully deserves to be in the team with or without the dosh (money). The truth is that if you haven't got the dosh you can't go Formula One racing," said Williams. "We've got a real racing driver as well. I am just astonished by the way he just controlled himself, he didn't make a mistake at all."

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