Fernando Alonso stormed through from 11th on the grid to take an astonishing home victory in the European Grand Prix in Valencia. The result made the Ferrari driver the first repeat winner of this incredible 2012 Formula 1 season. The victory also means that the Spaniard now has a twenty point lead in the world championship.
The race was transformed by a safety car period and then the shock retirement of Sebastian Vettel with a mechanical problem on his Red Bull after dominating the first half of the race. With Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren retiring late on in a collision with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams as they fought for third. This meant Alonso made full use of his maximum points score to jump ahead of the pack in the championship.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean had looked like he could challenge for victory as he chased Alonso, only to suffer an alternator failure to cause his ultimate retirement; much to his and his team’s frustration. His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen came through in the later stages to claim second after a pass on the struggling Hamilton. It was Hamilton’s tyre issues that lead to the overtaking attempt from Maldonado that ultimately saw Hamilton hit the wall after contact between the two. Amazingly this then allowed another low grid starter Michael Schumacher (started 12th) to make his podium return for Mercedes in third place. The podium marked Schumacher‘s first podium since the Chinese Grand Prix in 2006. He was followed closely home by 19th-place qualifier Mark Webber’s Red Bull.
Vettel dominated the early stages of the race, immediately pulling out a lead of several seconds as the pack behind took several corners to sort itself out. He was picking up a second a lap on average over the chasing field throughout the first stint. Front row qualifier Hamilton got away slowly, and had to fend off several attackers before establishing himself in second ahead of Grosjean, Kamui Kobayashi, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and the fast-starting Alonso. During the opening stint Alonso overtook Hulkenberg and followed Raikkonen past Maldonado. He then managed to jump Raikkonen and Kobayashi during the first round of stops by running one lap longer than his counterparts. This group then came out in a long train of yet-to-stop cars, this didn’t slow Alonso much as he asserted his pace over the drivers who had yet to stop and carved his way through the field.
Approaching half-distance, Vettel was leading by 20 seconds over Grosjean. Grosjean had claimed second from Hamilton with a beautiful move around the the outside of Hamilton to try and bridge the gap to Vettel but all he succeeded in doing was building a ten second gap to the Briton.
When the safety car was called out to clear debris from a clash between Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso and Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham, most drivers made their second and final pitstops. Hamilton’s was very slow, allowing Alonso to get up to third. On the restart Alonso made a difficult pass look easy as he moved around the outside of Grosjean into the first corner at the restart to claim second. Moments later that second place became the race lead, as Vettel’s Red Bull suddenly slowed and retired, much to the world champion’s shock and frustration.
Grosjean kept Alonso under pressure and still seemed a possible winner, only for an alternator failure to halt the Lotus with 17 laps to go. After that Alonso was able to pull clear and kept a steady gap to the chasing Hamilton. Hamilton would hold on to second until the final two laps, when his tyres appeared to finally give up. Raikkonen got past after a long battle, but when Maldonado tried to do likewise, the pair clashed, putting the McLaren in the barriers and breaking the Williams’s front wing.
That allowed Schumacher through to claim the first podium of his Formula 1 return, as he fended off Webber, who had made great progress through from 19th on the grid following a late stop for fresh tyres. Both Webber and Schumacher used the fresh rubber to carve through the field as others began to struggle with tyre management and the rate of attrition went up. Both Schumacher and Webber passed the Force Indias in the closing stages, with Nico Rosberg then getting his Mercedes between Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta’s Force Indias to take sixth on the last lap.
Jenson Button had another disappointing run for McLaren with him only managing 8th position, ahead of Sergio Perez’s Sauber and the limping Maldonado who managed to pick up a point for 10th. The second Ferrari of Felipe Massa was delayed with damage from a collision with Kobayashi and finished a lowly 16th. Kobayashi, who had already had to change front wings once after hitting Bruno Senna’s Williams, had to retire after the incident.
For some of the race it looked like Caterham might score its first point, as solid pace and the retirements ahead allowed Vitaly Petrov to pick his way up to 10th place. But the Russian was pushed back down the order and then tangled with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
For a track where excitement had been missing in previous races; this season’s renewal more than made up for it. The Grand Prix circus moves onto Silverstone next in two weeks time. As the battle for the championship heats up it is yet to be seen whether Ferrari can continue their strong vein of recent form.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h44:16.449
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 6.421
3. Schumacher Mercedes + 12.639
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 13.628
5. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 19.993
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 21.176
7. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 22.866
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 24.653
9. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 27.777
10. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 34.653
11. Senna Williams-Renault + 35.961
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 37.041
13. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1:15.871
14. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1:34.654
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 1:36.551
16. Massa Ferrari + 1 lap
17. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
18. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
19. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 2 laps
Fastest lap: Rosberg, 1:42.163
Driver Team On lap
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 41
Vettel Red Bull-Renault 34
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 34
Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 27
Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1