As Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton retired from the race, it was Alonso who capped off a memorable weekend for Spain following their win in Euro 2012 yesterday. This was Alonso’s first win on home soil since 2006, and from 11th on the grid, will go down as one of his best. The other big winners today were Michael Schumacher, who picked up his first podium since his comeback, and Force India, who produced another double-point score.
Off the start, it was Vettel who seemed certain to make it three consecutive wins in the European Grand Prix, as he stormed away at the front. Kobayashi made a good start to move into fourth, and Grosjean followed Hamilton through the tight and twisty first sector in third place. Alonso laid good foundations for the race by making up three places, whilst Nico Rosberg was the big loser off the start, falling from 6th to 11th, and Button also fell back into 13th. Raikkonen was the quickest driver off the start line, but after getting bogged down on the kerb on the run down to turn one, he eventually lost a place.
The midfield battles were providing most of the action, with Button and Schumacher battling over a lowly 12th place, and Massa catching the Force India of Nico Hulkenburg, but at the front, Sebastian Vettel was setting fastest lap after fastest lap. His lead was as large as twenty seconds at one point, and Lewis Hamilton simply could not keep up. Instead, the McLaren was falling into the grasp of Romain Grosjean, who ultimately went around the outside of the Brit at turns twelve and thirteen to seize second place. It was obvious that Hamilton was struggling on his tyres, but his teammate was the first driver to pit. Perez joined Button in the pits, which led many to believe that only a two-stop race was viable due to Perez’s record for looking after his tyres. However, many of the drivers continued for a few more laps, with Maldonado losing two positions to allow Raikkonen and Alonso to move up the order due to his fading tyres. The Williams quickly pitted, and was joined in the pit lane by Kobayashi, Hulkenburg and Raikkonen, with the Lotus overtaking Kobayashi. At the front, Vettel was extending his lead after Hamilton pitted, with Grosjean trying to keep up with the Red Bull driver. Webber on the other hand had failed to make up many places before the stops, but was quickly taking advantage of those who were pitting on his harder tyre. Finally, Alonso, Grosjean and Vettel all pitted, with Fernando having pulled off some spectacular lap times to pass Raikkonen and Kobayashi. Vettel led from Grosjean, Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen and Kobayashi.
Whilst Vettel and Grosjean had nothing but tarmac ahead of them, the chasing pack had to battle with the drivers on a longer stint. Hamilton quickly disposed of Senna and Schumacher, but Alonso had a harder job getting past them, and wasn’t helped by Mark Webber either. Eventually, he made his way through to take 4th, whilst the traffic meant Raikkonen could not follow him through. Paul di Resta, pushing for a one stop, was running P2, but quickly fell down the order. The hard runners pitted, but still there was lots of action in the midfield. Bruno Senna suffered though after trying to pass Kobayashi, and clipped his front wing, causing both drivers to pit, and giving the Williams driver a drive-through penalty. Button and Perez pitted for a second time, and Grosjean set a new fastest lap in his hopeless pursuit of Vettel. However, everything was about to change.
Jean-Eric Vergne was looking to pull off a move on Heikki Kovalainen, but made a late move causing the cars to touch, and leaving both cars with a puncture. Crucially, it also left a good deal of debris on the circuit, causing the safety car to be deployed. Vettel’s lead vanished, and all of the leaders moved onto the medium compound in what became their final pit stops. More misery in the pit-lane caused Lewis Hamilton to lose a position. A failure with the front jack meant that Alonso managed to get the jump on the McLaren, and the new order was Vettel, Grosjean, Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton. Due to the new rules in 2012 allowing lapped cars to pass, Vettel had the Lotus filling his mirrors on the restart. This did not last long, as Alonso took a particularly tight line into the final corner, giving him a better run down to turn one, and ultimately took P2. Raikkonen lost a position to the recovering Hamilton, whilst Felipe Massa, who had been running well in the points, was taken out by Kamui Kobayashi. Although the Japanese driver came off worse and retired, he will receive a five place penalty for the British Grand Prix after ruining Massa’s weekend.
Vettel’s lead had been reduced greatly, and it soon became a thing of history. Due to a suspected alternator problem, the Red Bull driver slowed and pulled over. He had looked certain to take the win, and was even chasing a Grand Chelem (pole, fastest lap, win, lead every lap). Instead, it all fell to pieces, and the defending world champion angrily threw his gloves against the wall. Now, it was Alonso who had a 3 second lead over Romain Grosjean, and the whole race had been turned on its head. Daniel Ricciardo had gone unnoticed into 6th place, whilst Vitaly Petrov even managed to get into the points for a few laps. Webber and Schumacher quickly ruined the Caterham dream though after pitting, and began to scythe through the squabbling cars in the midfield.
At the front, Alonso was maintaining a steady gap to Grosjean, but with the Lotus being kinder on its tyres, many expected to see a great scrap for the lead. It all came to a bitter end for the young Frenchman, who pulled over on lap 41 with an alternator failure, similar to that of Vettel. Now, Alonso led from Hamilton, Raikkonen and Maldonado, the latter of whom had been quietly making his way through the field and avoiding the drama.
The front three continued to trade quickest sector times, but the gap remained steady at about 3.5 seconds, and the ghosts of Canada were reminding Ferrari that if their tyres went off, it was game over. However, Hamilton and Raikkonen suffered greatest with the Pirellis. With two laps remaining, the Lotus made a daring move on Hamilton, and eventually made it stick. Things only got worse for the McLaren, as Pastor Maldonado ran close to him going into the penultimate lap. Further back, Schumacher and Webber were up to 6th and 7th, and Petrov, who had pitted thanks to an incident with Daniel Ricciardo, passed the Ferrari of Felipe Massa for 15th position. The final roll of the die had yet to be cast.
Maldonado was close enough to activate his DRS in pursuit of Hamilton, and tried going around the outside of the McLaren at the chicance. Hamilton, naturally, shut the door very quickly, and refused to give the Spanish GP winner any room. Maldonado did not give up though, and tried to force his way back onto the track. It all ended in tears though, as Hamilton was t-boned into the wall, whilst Maldonado lost a lot of positions also. It was a sorrowful end to the race for Hamilton, who will be ruing yet another mistake in the pits by his team.
As the dust settled, Webber and Schumacher continued to make their way through the field, passing Hulkenburg, and then taking advantage of the incident to be running 3rd and 4th. However, there was nothing stopping Fernando Alonso today. The Spaniard took a devastating win on home soil, a full 6.4 seconds ahead of Raikkonen in 2nd. Schumacher sealed the best result since his comeback in 3rd, and Webber moved up to second in the championship with a good 4th place. Force India’s double point score was also impressive, whilst Williams will be thinking what could have been, with just a single point to show for their European GP weekend.
Fernando Alonso’s win was reminiscent of Senna’s home win in 1991. He had simply destroyed the rest of the field with a calm and professional win, and deserved to hear his national anthem on the podium today. The first rule of Formula One – to finish first, first you have to finish. Vettel, Grosjean, and Hamilton will know this all too well, but today was Alonso’s day. A wonderful victory, and a podium featuring 10 world titles and over 100 grand prix victories. For all the criticism Valencia has received, it has dished up the best grand prix of 2012 so far. Fernando Alonso takes a twenty point lead in the drivers championship, and takes the most spectacular win of his career.
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