VALENCIA, Spain (Reuters) - Pastor Maldonado was a Formula One winner in Spain last month and now has a chance to repeat the feat on Sunday after qualifying third for the European Grand Prix.
The Venezuelan recorded a surprise victory for Williams in Barcelona in May, after being promoted to pole position when McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was demoted to the back of the grid for a fuel error.
Maldonado will be behind championship leader Hamilton in Valencia as well as Red Bull’s double champion Sebastian Vettel, who took pole for the third year running in Valencia, and was cautious about his chances.
“I‘m not thinking about the victory, it’s very difficult,” Maldonaldo, whose last two races have been hit by grid penalties, told Reuters after Saturday’s qualifying.
”It’s going to be a very tight race. You can see the gaps are very close between all the different teams and drivers. Behind me we have the two Lotus which are very strong.
“They showed everybody in Bahrain they were strong with these conditions like we have here.”
“We need to try to push more. I‘m happy, but I would prefer to be on pole,” added the Venezuelan, one of seven different race winners so far this year.
Valencia’s tight city circuit weaves in and around the renovated port on the Mediterranean coast, cars flashing past cranes and warehouses, and huge millionaire yachts.
The track temperatures rose as high as 46 degrees centigrade under the brilliant blue sky on Saturday, and are expected to be higher on Sunday
“It’s very, very difficult to overtake so it’s going to be very tight and challenging for everybody,” said Maldonado.
”We have shown in the past we are very consistent on pace especially in races. Every time we qualify well we get the same pace in the race, so I hope to be competitive tomorrow
”They are tricky conditions, very tough. Very hot. The tires are very sensitive. I was talking with the other drivers and all of them have the same feeling so I think everything is there to discover.
“Anything can happen tomorrow.”
Spain may share a common language with his home country, but Maldonado brushed off any suggestions that racing there made it feel anything like home.
He was being cheered on, though, by a sizeable Venezuelan contingent waving their country’s flag at the track.
”It’s great to have many Venezuelans here,“ he said. ”You can see one stand out there at the end of the main straight, and it’s good to race in front of them.
“Everybody is happy in my country, and here I have a lot of followers, so I feel good. It is a great moment for me.”
Reporting by Mark Elkington, editing by Alan Baldwin