Fernando Alonso became the first two time race winner in 2012 with a stunning victory in the European Grand Prix.
It was a very valuable win as both his main title contenders did not score points; Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both fell by the wayside, giving Alonso the chance to open up a relatively big points lead. He has 111 points with Webber on 91, Hamilton on 88 and Vettel on 85.
After a dramatic final dash to the line, the two comeback kings got great results; Kimi Raikkonen finished second ahead of Michael Schumacher. It was Schumacher’s 155th podium and the first of his three year comeback.
Starting 11th on the grid, but with the advantage of new tyres saved from missing Q3 yesterday, Alonso gained three places off the start line, fought his way through the field in the opening stint, took the opportunity offered to him by another pit stop problem for McLaren to pass Hamilton. He passed Grosjean for second place then took the lead just after half way through the race.
The race looked to be Sebastian Vettel’s for the taking, the only time he had any company all afternoon was at the start and then mid-race, when the safety car was deployed.
But Vettel pulled off the track soon after the restart and into retirement.
“Difficult to express the feeling, winning a home Grand Prix, ” said Alonso. “It’s unique. To win here in Valencia with this special team, I’m feeling very proud to be a Spanish sportsman. It’s probably my most special victory.
“Yesterday we had a tough moment, we were sad not being in Q3, but we didn’t give up. Anything can happen, today we had an amazing race a good start, 6 or 7 overtakings. We have to enjoy this.”
On the grid, Schumacher, Webber, Perez and Vergne went for the medium tyres, a clear indication that they were planning a one stop strategy. But their decision to pull out of this and switch to two stops late in the race gave Webber and Schumacher great results.
At the start, Vettel got away well, with Hamilton in second, but Grosjean squeezed past Maldonado for third place. Button lost four places to 13th and Rosberg fell to 11th.
Grosjean attacked Hamilton, while Raikkonen had a go at passing Maldonado for fourth, the Finn went off the track but couldn’t get past.
Vettel put in a very strong opening couple of laps to be well clear of the DRS zone by the end of lap two and after seven laps he had an eight second lead over Hamilton.
With Grosjean feeling that he was losing time behind Hamilton, Lotus needed to review their strategy options. But Grosjean passed Hamilton for second place on lap 11 and set off after Vettel. Grosjean’s pass was around the outside after the DRS zone. Grosjean dropped Hamilton by almost two seconds on the first lap in clear air.
Kobayashi had got himself up to fourth place, while both Ferraris gained three places from their grid slot, with Alonso eighth in the opening stint and Massa 10th.
Raikkonen passed Maldonado on lap 13 for 5th place, a great move around the outside again. Both Lotus drivers were very committed in their moves.
Hamilton pitted for mediums, while the other front runners mainly went for another set of softs. Hamilton was suffering from overheating tyres.
Alonso rose to 3rd before his pit stop and he rejoined 9th, just ahead of Raikkonen, who had been two places ahead of him in the opening stint. Alonso passed Webber and then Alonso and Schumacher had a great battle, the Spaniard squeezing past on lap 19 using the extra grip of the new tyres.
Kobayashi made contact with Senna as he tried to come through on new tyres, it put Senna into a spin and Kobayashi needed a new nose.
On lap 24 Di Resta pitted for a set of medium tyres and rejoined 14th.
The top three cars were very spread out with Vettel over 20 seconds clear of Grosjean, who was almost 10 seconds clear of Hamilton. Approaching half distance Alonso started to reel in Hamilton.
On lap 29 the safety car was deployed for debris on the track from an incident between Vergne and Kovalainen. Grosjean, Alonso, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg pitted immediately. Hamilton had a problem with a front jack and another long stop meant that Alonso passed him, as did Raikkonen. Hamilton dropped to sixth place.
Vettel pitted a lap later and rejoined in the lead. Now all the front runners were on the same medium tyres of the same age, which threatened to take away from the drama of the final laps on varying tyres. Although Daniel Ricciardo kept the interest alive by staying out on very worn soft tyres after the restart.
At the restart Alonso forced his way past Grosjean for P2, a move which turned out to be a very important move as a few moments later Vettel pulled off the track with no drive to retire, leaving Alonso in the race lead. An overheating alternator was blamed for the retirement.
But Grosjean hadn’t given up on the idea of a race win. lap after lap he stayed with him, matching his lap times and biding his time.
Mark Webber had climbed to sixth, but in a few corners on lap 37 was passed by Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Di Resta. He was another driver who made a late second stop for soft tyres and made great use of them; ending up fourth, from 19th on the grid.
The stewards investigated Hamilton for passing under yellow flags, but cleared him. However they penalised Kobayashi for a collision with Massa, five grid places at the next race.
On lap 41 Grosjean pulled off the race track into retirement, leaving Hamilton in second place and Raikkonen third with Maldonado and Hulkenberg giving chase.
With 12 laps to go, the top three started to close up; Raikkonen was told that if he could get ahead of Hamilton he’d have a chance of winning as Lotus expected the Ferrari to struggle on the tyres at the end.
In the closing stages Di Resta on his one stop strategy was vulnerable as Schumacher and Webber went past him on fresher tyres. Schumacher had been trying to do one stop, but a late stop for soft tyres gave him a chance to attack in the closing stages.
Raikkonen attacked Hamilton with two laps to go and passed him for second place. Maldonado tried to follow the Finn, but Hamilton defended robustly despite rapidly fading rear tyres.
Hamilton refused to allow Maldonado through and as he resisted he and Maldonado collided, Maldonado coming back from outside the race track, in a move most commentators saw as Maldonado’s fault – putting Hamilton out of the race. The enmity between the two from last year was clear to see and won’t have been improved by this incident.
Maldonado saw it as Hamilton’s fault, “He tried to put me off the track,” he said. “He didn’t leave any room for me to stay on and do the corner side by side. I jumped over the kerb and I couldn’t avoid the accident. I don’t know why he drove like that. He was struggling too much with the tyres. He was completely lost and at that moment I was getting very good pace. He tried a very aggressive move on me.”
This allowed Schumacher to come through to take his first podium of the comeback.
Hulkenberg finished fifth, despite not having KERS from lap seven, which is quite an achievement when considering how important KERS is in both passing and defending.
EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX, Valencia, 57 laps
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h44:16.449
2. Raikkonen Lotus + 6.421
3. Schumacher Mercedes + 12.639
4. Webber Red Bull + 13.628
5. Hulkenberg Force India + 19.993
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 21.176
7. Di Resta Force India + 22.886
8. Button McLaren + 24.653
9. Perez Sauber + 27.777
10. Maldonado Williams + 34.630
11. Senna Williams + 35.900
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 37.000
13. Petrov Caterham + 1:15.871
14. Kovalainen Caterham + 1:34.654
15. Pic Marussia + 1:36.565
16. Massa Ferrari + 1 lap
17. De la Rosa HRT + 1 lap
18. Karthikeyan HRT + 1 lap
19. Hamilton McLaren + 2 laps