May 13 (GMM/ F1’s astonishing season continues to live up to the hype, as a fifth driver and constructor on Sunday won the fifth grand prix of 2012.

Not only is the victory Pastor Maldonado’s first, his walk up the steps at the Circuit de Catalunya was the first taste of the podium in his two-season F1 career.

It’s also the first Venezuelan triumph in the sport’s history, and a hugely popular victory for Williams, the once-great British team headed by Sir Frank Williams, whose 70th birthday was warmly celebrated in the paddock on Saturday.

“Boy did we need that,” said Williams on BBC television.

And asked how he feels on Sky television, he smiled: “Relief.”

“Some said Maldonado was a pay driver and he didn’t deserve his place in formula one but they’ll be eating their words now,” commented former team driver David Coulthard.

“That was a fantastic drive,” added Coulthard, referring to Williams’ first win since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004.

Williams enthused: “I didn’t see him (Maldonado) make one single mistake.”

“You can’t really fault him,” agreed Williams’ 1996 world champion Damon Hill.

Amazingly, however, away from the champagne, Sebastian Vettel’s sixth place leaves him at the top of the drivers’ championship, and he is now neck-and-neck with Fernando Alonso, who finished second on Sunday in the improving Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton, who finished dead last on Sunday and finished eighth, is third in the points classification, ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.

Finn Raikkonen finished third on Sunday, and is the favourite to become F1’s sixth different winner of 2012 in Monaco in a fortnight.

“We showed we still have the speed,” the Lotus driver said after the Spanish grand prix. “If we had a few more laps, we could have fought for a victory.”