BARCELONA // More than 30 people were examined by medics last night after an explosion occurred in the Williams team garage while the Formula One marque celebrated their first victory since 2004 at the Spanish Grand Prix.
About an hour after Pastor Maldonado's maiden victory, Sir Frank Williams, the team founder, was delivering a celebratory speech in the pit garage when the fire broke out engulfing the paddock at Circuit de Catalunya in thick black smoke. Valtteri Bottas, the team's reserve driver, said the flames appeared to emanate from the fuelling section of the garage.
"I was there when Frank was giving his speech to everyone," he said. "I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly."
Claire Williams, daughter of Sir Frank, said her father - who is restricted to a wheelchair - had been immediately removed from the scene. A Williams statement added that four staff members were treated at the circuit's medical facility, with three being transported to local hospitals and one being released.
Within minutes of the explosion, engineers from neighbouring pit garages were fighting through smoke to help extinguish the fire.
A statement from Caterham, who have an adjacent garage to Williams, confirmed four of their staff were taken to the circuit medical centre for examination; one with a minor hand injury and three with respiratory issues.
Force India's deputy team principal Bob Fernley said one of his staff had been retained for observation, but was critical of the response time by circuit officials.
"It's unbelievable," he told Brazilian website Tazio Autosport.
"My guy got there before the official fire fighters."
A member of the Williams team was later seen helping pack up the marque's motorhome with his lower leg wrapped in bandages.
Neither of the team's cars are understood to have been damaged, despite photos showing the car of Bruno Senna, Maldonado's Brazilian teammate, sitting amid charred garage equipment.
The incident marred what should have been a glorious return to the big time for Williams, who were without a race win since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Maldonado, who had started on pole position, was immediately usurped at the front by Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard driving for Ferrari. A mistimed pit stop, however, saw Alonso slip back to second and Sir Frank Williams watched nervously as Maldonado became the fifth driver in five races to win a grand prix this season. Alonso was followed home by the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.
Immediately after the race Maldonado, the first Venezuelan driver to win in the top tier of motorsport, said the victory was "a great moment for my country after nearly 30 years without any driver in Formula One" and added: "I can imagine that there will be a party everywhere."
He could surely not have imagined he would, only moments later, be carrying his young cousin Manuel on his back out of a smoke-filled garage, as a photo later proved to be the case.
"The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire," read the Williams statement.
The FIA, motorsport’s ruling body, added in their own statement: “Thirty one team members were seen by circuit medical centre and all have been released with the exception of seven who were transferred to a variety of local hospitals where they are receiving treatment.”