Tires, lack of dominant team confounding
BARCELONA, Spain (AP)
Teams and drivers emerged from the Spanish Grand Prix with more questions than answers on just who is the Formula One favorite after five races.
Pastor Maldonado's maiden victory gave Williams its first F1 triumph in eight years and the season's fifth different winner. It's the most varied start since 1983 and the 12 teams' inability to come to grips with the Pirelli tires is one of the main reasons.
Sebastian Vettel dominated last year to win the title with races to spare. He looked to have Red Bull back in command after a wire-to-wire victory in Bahrain, but the two-time defending F1 champion was sixth in Barcelona.
Fernando Alonso won the Malaysian GP then dropped off, but his Ferrari returned to deliver the Spanish driver's fourth runner-up spot at the Catalunya Circuit.
McLaren errors continue to haunt Lewis Hamilton, as the British driver was favored to win from the pole before a qualifying penalty dropped him to last. Jenson Button seems to be scratching his head over why he can't match his teammate's pace since winning in the season-opening Australian GP.
Maldonado has elevated Williams into the mix, while Lotus is also in the running even if driver Kimi Raikkonen - coming off a second straight podium - doesn't understand why his car performs the way it does.
Answers? F1 only seems to be riddled with questions going into the Monaco GP on May 27.
''You arrive in Monaco next Wednesday and you don't know if you will be a winner or if you will be out of the points. That's what we feel at the moment, not only for us,'' said Alonso, who shares the overall lead with Vettel with 61 points. ''It's very strange. We were 57 seconds behind Vettel in Bahrain, and we were lapping (Mark) Webber here. No one understands, probably. Not us, either.''
Pirelli's tires came under criticism from drivers before Spain, with extreme degradation confounding and frustrating the grid.
''Delivering what you want out of those tires is the next challenge,'' McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. ''No one here convinces me that they understand these tires on a comfortable basis. It's become an incredible feature of this championship and it's creating the extraordinary season we are seeing.''
An offseason reshuffle at Williams is paying dividends, although a fire in the team's Spanish GP garage after Maldonado's victory may set it back as the British team's IT equipment and infrastructure were badly damaged.
''I think we've been working so hard from the beginning of the year trying to understand these tires and to develop our car around the tires and I think we actually did a really good step forward for this race,'' Maldonado said. ''I think this is the way.''
Maldonado has 29 points, while the top eight drivers are within 26 points of each other. Red Bull leads the constructors' championship by nine points over McLaren.
With victories uncertain, teams know consistency, upgrades and improvements are key. But even that doesn't spell success.
''We have probably the most difficult start of the championship in (my) three years in Ferrari, with a car that was not competitive at all, and (now) we finish the first quarter of the championship, and we are leading the championship,'' Alonso said.