The Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying for the fifth round of the 2013 season, with the former taking his second consecutive pole position. Sebastian Vettel was the third fastest for Red Bull Racing, with Kimi Raikkonen and Alonso completing the top five on the grid.
Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber and Sergio Perez all moved up a position after Felipe Massa was handed a three-place grid penalty, with Paul di Resta rounding out the top 10. Daniel Ricciardo was joined by Jean-Eric Vergne, Adrian Sutil, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg in the Q2 drop-zone.
Esteban Gutierrez originally qualified in 16th but dropped to 19th after he was given a three-place penalty for blocking Raikkonen. Valtteri Bottas, Giedo van der Garde and Pastor Maldonado were promoted a position, with. Jules Bianchi in 20th. Max Chilton and Charles Pic completed the grid.
When the five lights went out, Rosberg managed to maintain the lead of the race into turn one. However, it was all change behind with Vettel clearing Hamilton and moving up to second into turn two. The Brit and Raikkonen were then passed by Alonso around the outside of turn three in what was one of the overtaking moves of the year.
Hamilton started to drop from the leading trio and soon found himself demoted to fifth after being passed by the leading Lotus into the turn 11 hairpin. The first round of pit stops kicked off as early as lap seven, just prior to Grosjean’s retirement from what could have been a strong race after a suspension problem.
Pirelli predicted three or four trips through the pit lane prior to the race, due to the demanding track layout and more aggressive tyre compounds, and the Italian supplier proved to be correct. Alonso and Hamilton took to their respective pit boxes for the first time on lap nine, with Rosberg, Vettel and Raikkonen reacting on the following tour.
The home favourite’s early stop meant he emerged ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull and soon latched on to the gearbox of Rosberg’s Mercedes. It didn’t take long for the Spaniard to find a way through and he took the lead into turn one on lap 13.
Alonso swiftly pulled away and eked out a healthy advantage during the second stint, which was undoubtedly where the race was won. The majority of the field were forced to pit four times, including Alonso who stopped for the final time on lap 50.
The Spaniard eventually took the chequered flag well clear of his nearest challenger to take his second victory at the Barcelona track. Raikkonen was one of the few drivers to pull off a three-stop race and advanced to second at the wheel of the Lotus E21, ahead of Massa.
The Brazilian started from ninth but moved up to sixth on lap one. He ran as high as second mid-way through the race before eventually dropping to third, 26 seconds behind his team-mate. After his strong first lap, Vettel eventually had to settle for fourth place after struggling with tyre wear. Webber suffered a poor start and pitted incredibly early, but he recovered well to finish fifth. The Aussie took the chequered flag just over 20 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Rosberg.
Both Mercedes cars struggled throughout the Spanish Grand Prix, with Hamilton faring far worse and falling to 12th despite starting from the front row of the grid – at one point, he even said he “couldn’t drive any slower”. It proved, once again, that despite being fast in qualifying, the W04 was well off the pace in race conditions.
Di Resta was an encouraging seventh for Force India, with Button putting in a spirited charge back up the order after a disastrous start to finish in eighth. Perez was just two seconds further back in ninth, with Ricciardo completing the top 10. Gutierrez briefly led the race after a long first stint and narrowly missed out in his first point. The Sauber driver’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg pitted five times en route to 15th place after a stop/go penalty for an unsafe release in the pit lane.
Sutil was 13th, ahead of 2012 race winner Maldonado. Bottas, Pic, Bianchi and Chilton completed the classified finishers. Grosjean was the first retirement, with van der Garde exiting the race due to floor damage after he left his pit box with a loose left-rear wheel. Vergne was the final driver to retire after collision damage.
Alonso’s second win of the year helped him to jump to third in the drivers’ standings, moving ahead of Hamilton after his disastrous race. Vettel remained at the top of the standings, but Raikkonen had cut the gap to just four points ahead of round six in Monaco.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic