Maldonado returns to site of first F1 win

The "European tour" of the 2013 Formula One season begins this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

When F1 came to Barcelona one year ago, Pastor Maldonado from Williams pulled off a stunning victory in the Spanish GP. Maldonado and Fernando Alonso from Ferrari exchanged the lead several times throughout the 66-lap race. Alonso trailed him by less than one second in the closing laps but wound up finishing 3.2 seconds behind.

Maldonado scored his maiden F1 victory in the Spanish GP. He also became the first Venezuelan driver in the sport to win a race.

"It will be very special to return to Barcelona after my win there last season," Maldonado said. "While all the drivers know the track very well and we have some good data from testing here earlier in the year, the track changes quite a lot so you still need to familiarize yourself with the conditions during practice and set up the car accordingly."

Maldonado was also credited with his first pole win in last year's Spanish GP. He originally qualified second but inherited the pole after Lewis Hamilton, who drove for McLaren at the time, was stripped of the position due to a fuel violation in qualifying.

Unfortunately, the race-winning celebration for Maldonado and Williams at the Barcelona circuit was quickly interrupted when a fire broke out in their garage area. The fire erupted when there was a problem with the KERS on one of Williams' cars. There were no injuries, but the flames caused extensive damage to the team's equipment in the garage, including Bruno Senna's car. Senna was involved in an early-race collision with Michael Schumacher.

Since winning the Spanish GP last year, Maldonado has finished no better than fifth in a grand prix and has scored just 12 points. He has no points this season, with his best finish of 11th coming three weeks ago in Bahrain.

"At the moment, we are living hard moments, especially this start to the season has been very hard for us," Maldonado said. "We're working very hard. The spirit is quite high in the team. We are working together as friends, as family, as a real team. We really hope to improve our performance quite soon, and hopefully we will be there fighting for good places."

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, the three-time defending F1 champion, comes to Barcelona with a 10-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus. Vettel has won two of the first four grand prix this season (Malaysia and Bahrain). He won the Spanish GP in 2011 and finished sixth in it last year.

Hamilton, now in his first season with Mercedes, is 27 points behind Vettel, while Alonso trails by 30. This is Alonso's "home race." He is the only Spaniard competing in F1 this year.

"I think it motivates you to race at home, and you give an extra 10 percent on what you normally do, to take care of every detail of the weekend, starting from (Friday's) practice," Alonso said. "You try to do everything well because you know that a nice result here, a nice podium finish or whatever, will make you happy. It will make the team happy and make many people in the grandstands happy."

Alonso won the Spanish GP in 2006.

Raikkonen is the only active driver who has multiple victories in this race. He won it in 2005 and '08.

Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, May 12. Race: Spanish Grand Prix. Site: Circuit de Catalunya. Track: 2.892-mile (4.655-kilometer), 16-turn road course. Start Time: 8 a.m. ET. Laps: 66. Miles: 190.825 (307.104 km). 2012 Winner: Pastor Maldonado. Television: NBC Sports Network.