BARCELONA, May 14, 2012 (AFP) - Pastor Maldonado emerged from the emotional chaos of his maiden victory and the Williams team's blazing return to glory in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix by declaring his next ambition: to mount a serious challenge for the world title.
The 27-year-old history-making Venezuelan became the fifth different winner in five races this year - the most open start to a season since 1983 - to declare his intentions and underlined that performance with a dignified and heroic response afterwards.
Not only did he win a tumultuous race at the Circuit de Valencia, he also turned into a hero by coming to the team's aid when a fire ignited in the Williams garage after the race and he went in to rescue his cousin.
On the weekend of team founder Frank Williams' 70th birthday, there could not have been a more spectacular way of delivering a present to remember, even if it was tinged with some sadness and regrets as a total of 31 people were treated for various injuries after the fire.
Of that total, seven were transferred from the circuit medical centre to local hospitals for more intensive treatment of burns and smoke inhalation.
The Williams team said the fire, which erupted about 90 minutes after they had claimed their first victory since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, had started in the fuel area as they were packing up.
The team confirmed four members were injured, three of whom were in hospital. One was treated at the circuit medical centre and released.
In a statement, the team said: "The Williams F1 Team would like to thank all of the teams and the FIA for their support in today's incident."
The sport's ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) confirmed the figure of 31 for those who were injured and treated.
"The FIA is collaborating closely with the Spanish authorities investigating this incident and will be providing a further update as soon as more information becomes available," said the FIA.
If the fire threw a shadow over Williams' dramatic return to triumphant form after their worst-ever season in 2011, it could not blunt Maldonado's optimism.
The first Venezuelan driver to start a race from pole position and the nation's first Grand Prix winner said: "Everything is possible. We aren't the best team at the moment, but the gaps are close and I'm driving well. And I have a very good feeling with the team and with the car. Why not?"
After Sunday's win, Maldonado is ninth in the drivers' standings, 32 points behind joint leaders defending double world champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and local hero two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Maldonado added: "We are looking to do our best, looking forward to winning some races, to getting a couple more podiums and I'm really happy because the team hasn't won many races for many years so this is a great moment for us. I hope to continue like that."
Alonso was delighted to finish second while Vettel battled through to sixth, a result that confirmed he will not dominate this year as he did 2011.
Alonso said: "What we can say is we have probably had the most difficult start of a championship in these three years in Ferrari, with a car that was not competitive at all, and we finish the first quarter of the championship, the fifth race out of 20, and we are leading the championship, or the same points as Vettel!
"So we have to be very, very proud and very happy with the points we achieved and with the position. Maybe we have not to be so proud about how competitive we are but we are working on that."
Vettel admitted that he had struggled and was glad to score the points he did on a day when his likely and expected major rivals from McLaren Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, and compatriot Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, came in eighth and ninth.
"These are valuable points," said Vettel. "But it's difficult for us to understand what's going on."
Vettel's comment summed up the feelings of many teams and drivers after a race that delivered another surprise result in a season of surprises - much due to the nature of the controversial Pirelli tyres' unpredictable performance.
After five races without a win, Hamilton is sure to relish a chance to finish first at his favourite circuit in Monte Carlo when the show moves on for the Monaco Grand Prix on May 27.