Fernando Alonso made the perfect use of a blistering start and bold strategy to deliver an emphatic victory to his adoring fans at the Spanish Grand Prix, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.
It was a race that was dictated by tyre strategy, with much of the field played it safe by adopting a four-stop strategy, whilst Raikkonen and Lotus were again able to make one less pit stop and he put himself in contention for the race win in the middle stages of the race. It will give further fuel to critics of Pirelli who argue that the tyres have too great an influence on the races at the moment; Alonso said after the race that he had been able to push at 90% to achieve the result, but others like Hamilton were much more hamstrung.
Pirelli’s Paul Hembery tweeted after the race, “We aim for 2/3 stops. “Today was too many stops, we got it wrong, too aggressive. We will make changes, probably from Silverstone.”
However, the Lotus driver was unable to push his hard tyres during a twenty-lap final stint and could not threaten Alonso. It is the Spaniard’s thirty-second career victory and brings him to within seventeen points of the Championship leader Vettel. It was also the win from the lowest starting position, 5th, that we have seen in Barcelona.
Vettel still holds that championship lead ahead of Raikkonen after bringing his Red Bull home in fourth place, but it was not his day today as the Red Bull struggled to maintain both pace and tyre life; something had to give. He had looked to be the main challenger to Alonso following the first stops, but drifted away in the second half of the Grand Prix as Raikkonen cruised into contention.
Raikkonen remains in second place in the World Championship, now closing to just four points behind.
The top three each have credentials for the driver of the day as Raikkonen was able to maintain life in three sets of the medium tyre before switching to the hard tyre for his final stint.
Massa also had a very good race as he overcame a three place grid penalty which forced him to start ninth and made his way past Rosberg and Vettel in a Ferrari that was peerless on the day.
Alonso’s win was set up by the start; from fifth he kept his foot in around the long turn three to take both Raikkonen and a slow starting Lewis Hamilton for third place and got on to the tail of the leading pair, pole sitter Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg got off the line well and was able to defend from Hamilton in to the first corner, the Briton having a large lock-up, which allowed Vettel to get around his outside. And once Alonso made his way in to third position the lead trio edged away during the opening phase of the race and up until the first set of pit stops.
At this stage Ferrari grabbed the initiative to bring Alonso in early and put him in to clear air whilst Vettel was sat behind an ever slowing Rosberg. When Rosberg and Vettel reacted and pitted a lap later Alonso cut his way in between the two and began to pile pressure on the race leader.
In the ensuing laps Alonso harassed Rosberg, eventually taking the lead on lap thirteen with a late braking move around the outside of turn one. This allowed him to make a short break but his hopes of Rosberg holding up Vettel were short lived as the Red Bull driver made his way in to second place, demoting the pole sitter further down the order.
For Rosberg, from then on his race crumbled as both he and team mate Hamilton tried to make use of a three-stop strategy. But, as has been prevalent this year, the Mercedes was unable to match the race pace of its competitors and manage its tyres they and ended the day with an uninspiring result. He lost four places within two laps as Massa and Raikkonen made their way past with little difficulty.
From this point Alonso never looked seriously threatened, helped indirectly by Raikkonen being held up behind Vettel during the second phase of the race. The lead group remained unchanged as Vettel was followed home by team mate Mark Webber. The Australian found himself stuck in the pack early in the race and like in Bahrain he opted to pit early for clear air. This system worked once again and maintained his team’s lead at the head of the Constructors Championship.
Behind Webber was a close battle for sixth place between Rosberg and Paul Di Resta. The Force India driver heaping pressure on the pole sitter in the closing laps but unable to take his place. It was another strong showing by Di Resta who collected some much needed points to sustain Force India’s lead over McLaren in the Championship.
The top ten was closed out by the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, who were able to complete the race without any collisions or angry radio messages. Perez took one more stop during the race and was told to hold station in the closing laps as he raced up to his senior team mate.
And Daniel Ricciardo took the final points paying position with another strong outing for Toro Rosso. He and team mate Jean-Eric Vergne were having a good battle until Vergne was collected by an early-released Nico Hulkenberg in the pit lane and was consequently forced to retire.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, 66 Laps
1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 66 laps 1hr 39m 16.596s
2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus+00m 09.3s
3. Felipe Massa Ferrari +00m 26.0s
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +00m 38.2s
5. Mark Webber Red Bult +00m 47.9s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +01m 08.0s
7. Paul di Resta Force India +01m 08.9s
8. Jenson Button McLaren +01m 19.5s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren +01m 21.7s
10. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso +1 lap
11. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1 lap
12. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +1 lap
13. Adrian Sutil Force India +1 lap
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 lap
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber +1 lap
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams +1 lap
17. Charles Pic Caterham+1 lap
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia +2 laps
19. Max Chilton Marussia +2 laps
Rtd Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 52 laps completed
Rtd Giedo van der Garde Caterham 21 laps completed
Rtd Romain Grosjean Lotus 8 laps completed