Maldonado joy goes up in smoke

Ian Parkes

A FULL investigation has been launched into the cause of a fire that turned Williams' Spanish Grand Prix victory celebrations sour.

Pastor Maldonado took the chequered flag to give Williams their first taste of success for 132 races, their last back in Brazil in 2004, and becoming the first Venezuelan to win in F1 history.

In the most unpredictable season for years, the first five races have been won by five different drivers and constructors for only the second time in the sport's history.

For Maldonado, who prior to yesterday's race at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya had claimed just five points from his previous 23 races in F1, the champagne flowed in the immediate aftermath.

But just 90 minutes after the chequered flag dropped, as founder Frank Williams gave a speech to every team member in the garage, a blaze quickly took hold.

Williams have confirmed it "originated from the fuel area", and they, along with the fire services and police "are working together to determine the root cause".

With photographers and cameramen also in attendance, a swift evacuation took place, with Maldonado turning hero to save his 12-year-old cousin Manuel. The 26-year-old was pictured giving Manuel, who is holding his uncle's winner's trophy in his hand, a piggy back down the pit lane due to a broken right foot covered by a protective boot.

As thick, acrid black smoke billowed from the garage, Williams personnel, along with those from Caterham and Force India in the neighbouring garages, fought to bring the blaze under control.

The FIA have confirmed in a statement that 31 team members were seen by circuit medical centre staff, the majority for smoke inhalation, with 24 released. Seven, however, were transferred to a variety of local hospitals for treatment, one from Williams in particular for severe burns, understood to be to 40pc of his body.

Regarding the fire, motor sport's governing body added: "The FIA is collaborating closely with the Spanish authorities investigating this incident."

Force India deputy team principal Bob Fearnley was fiercely critical of the response of the circuit's fire crews to the Williams' garage incident.

"Incompetent would be a very polite way of saying what these people have done here today," Fearnley said.

"There's no training, no procedures. I went down to see how my man is, and I had to fight my way in. We need to look seriously at the training of people at the circuits. I'm not impressed at all."

The incident overshadowed the day for Williams and Maldonado, who had been hoisted up on the shoulders of runner-up Fernando Alonso and third-placed Kimi Raikkonen on the podium.

In front of his home fans, Ferrari's Alonso finished 3.1secs off Maldonado, with Raikkonen just 0.6secs adrift in his Lotus after a stunning final stint, only to run out of laps.

The Finn's team-mate in Romain Grosjean was fourth, followed by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull. Vettel is now level on 61 points with Alonso at the top of the drivers' standings, but ahead on countback of results.

After a stirring drive from 24th - after being hit with a harsh penalty for a fuel irregularity in qualifying - Lewis Hamilton is eight points down after he finished eighth behind Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes, with Jenson Button an unhappy ninth and 16 points adrift.