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Formula 1 Racetrack Fire Hurts 31 as Williams Celebrates Win

Pastor Maldonado
Pastor Maldonado of Williams celebrates on the podium after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Thirty-one people required medical attention after a fire engulfed the Williams Formula One team’s garage as staff celebrated Pastor Maldonado’s breakthrough victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.

The blaze broke out an hour after yesterday’s race at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, a police official said by telephone from Barcelona. Seven people were transferred to a variety of local hospitals where they are receiving treatment, according to Formula One’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

The incident marred what was Grove, England-based Williams’s first race victory since Juan Pablo Montoya took the checkered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2004.

“The team, the fire services and the police are working to determine the root cause of the fire,” Williams said in a statement. The fire began in the area where fuel was stored, Williams added.

Mechanics from the Caterham and Force India teams helped Williams staff put out the flames, the FIA said. Press photographs showed the burnt-out racing car of Maldonado’s teammate Bruno Senna.

Earlier, the 27-year-old Maldonado had held off Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to win by 3.2 seconds and become the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race. Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus was third, 0.7 seconds further back.

Alonso pulled even with Red Bull’s defending world champion Sebastian Vettel on 61 points atop the standings after five of 20 races. For the first time in 29 years, five different drivers have won the first five races.

500-1 Outsider

Maldonado, who is in his second Formula One season and had never finished higher than eighth, was rated a 500-1 outsider by William Hill Plc before yesterday’s qualifying session, according to a news release by the U.K. bookmaker.

Maldonado, who started in pole position, lost the lead to Alonso on the first bend, although he kept within 2 seconds of the Spaniard and regained the lead during a round of pit stops after 25 laps.

Alonso moved to within half a second of Maldonado with eight of the 66 laps remaining, although he didn’t begin a concerted attack to pass him.

After climbing out of his Williams car, which has sponsorship from Caracas-based state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Maldonado raised his hands in the air to celebrate. Unfamiliar with protocol after taking a top-3 place, he had to be reminded to shake hands with Alonso and Raikkonen and celebrate with Williams mechanics. He then bumped into a television camera tailing him.

‘Unforgettable Race’

It was the 114th win race win for Williams, the third-oldest team which has the highest number of victories after Ferrari and McLaren.

“We had a great rhythm and could control Ferrari and Lotus,” Maldonado said. “It was an unforgettable race.”

Romain Grosjean finished fourth for Lotus and Kamui Kobayashi was fifth for Sauber. Vettel, who won 11 of 19 races last season, had to rally to take sixth after serving a drive-through penalty for not slowing sufficiently under yellow warning flags. Nico Rosberg was seventh for Mercedes and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

Hamilton was stripped of pole position two days ago and started last of 24 drivers after his McLaren car didn’t have enough fuel to return to the pits and provide the required one-liter sample for testing.

Record seven-time champion Michael Schumacher crashed out after his Mercedes hit the back of Senna’s Williams on lap 13. After running into a gravel trap, Schumacher unscrewed his steering wheel and threw it out of the cockpit in disgust.

Schumacher, 43, said in a televised interview that Senna drove dangerously by veering right and then left in front of him. Senna said the German “probably misjudged me a little.”

Race officials who reviewed the crash ordered Schumacher to start five places further back than his qualifying position at the next race, the Monaco Grand Prix, on May 27.

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