Pastor Maldonado will start the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position for Williams after Lewis Hamilton was excluded from qualifying.
Hamilton had finished up half a second clear in a surprise-filled session at the Circuit de Catalunya, but was told by his McLaren team to stop his car during his lap back to the pits.
The stewards ruled that McLaren had breached Article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations, which requires cars to return to the pits under their own power and to provide a one litre fuel sample.
An FIA statement said that McLaren's Sam Michael had stated to the stewards that the car was stopped for reasons of force majeure, and that a team member had put an insufficient amount of fuel into the car. The stewards however refused to accept that as force majeure, as “the amount of fuel put into the car is under complete control of the Competitor”.
Hamilton was excluded from the entire qualifying session (not just the Q3 segment) and therefore he will start the race from the back of the grid.
The ruling means that Maldonado will start from pole, with local hero Fernando Alonso alongside him on the front row of the grid.
“I'm really happy for sure,” said Maldonado to Sky Sports. “We've been working so hard since last year. It's a great moment for the team, a great moment for me. It's my first pole, so I hope to have a great race tomorrow. I will do my best, so we'll see.”
The Williams team were celebrating Frank Williams' 70th birthday when the news broke.
“It's the best present ever for him, I think,” added Maldonado.
Asked whether he thought he could maintain the lead throughout the race, he said: “Yeah, we have everything to do that. I will do my best. I think that the team must be ready for all the single situations we will find during the race. I think the motivation within the team is so high, the mechanics are ready to do great pitstops, so we are ready.”