Street fighter Alonso stuns rivals with his great victory on home soil
24 June, 2012
Jun.24 (Apex) Fernando Alonso scored one of his greatest wins as he triumphed sensationally in the Grand Prix of Europe, at the Valencia Street Circuit, to stun his rivals and take the lead in the championship standings. Kimi Raikkonen finished second and Michael Schumacher surprized even himself with third, scoring his first podium finish since his comeback in 2010.
It was an incident packed affair, in scorching conditions, which saw the early pace setter Sebastian Vettel retire with an engine problem, Romain Grosjean coast to a halt while challenging for the lead and Lewis Hamilton crash out on the final lap (from third place) after a coming together with Pastor Maldonado.
But at the front, against all the odds Alonso turned a woeful qualifying position into a victory which seemed so unlikely that even he had written off his chances before the race. But again, he cannily seized every opportunity that came his way to engineer a victory from absolutely nothing, which will further enhance his status as the preeminent driver of his generation.
The Spaniard, who started from 11th on the grid, benefited from Vettel’s retirement shortly after mid distance in the aftermath of a safety car period. Up until that point the German had dominated proceedings and looked to be cruising to his hat-trick of wins at the venue, but not long after the restart his Red Bull RB8 lost drive and his afternoon was over.
Alonso pounced to overtake Grosjean immediately after the restart in a jaw dropping move around the outside of the Lotus into Turn 2, which saw him move up to second and a few minutes later he became the leader as Vettel’s car spluttered to a halt, prompting a massive uproar from the crowd as their local hero took control which he held on to until the very end.
Halfway around the slow down lap Alonso was handed a Spanish flag, whereupon he coasted to a halt and lifted himself out of the cockpit of his Ferrari to a huge ovation and a memorable moment of unbridled joy between him and his adoring fans. A Mastercard moment!
He finally made his way to the podium, and the press conference, where he declared: “I cannot put into words the special feeling of winning your home grand prix. It is unique and special. I had the opportunity in Barcelona in 2006 and did the same here in Valencia. The stands were full of colour and Spanish flags and, after the footballers won at Euro 2012, I am feeling very proud to be Spanish at the moment. This is possibly the best victory I have ever had.
He added later, “This is the most emotional win of my career, it is unexpected. It is a difficult time for Spain with the economic problems, and we knew we had to give something back. The win was not in our predictions, but we enjoyed it when we did it. We were lucky with some overtaking, because the moves were risky and aggressive, but they go for you sometimes.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said, “It was an unbelievable race and, for me, it is important that we kept the pace. Our main competitors lost some important points and I am very happy for Fernando, it was an incredible performance. Yesterday was not easy for us, but it’s great for us today.”
Raikkonen appeared to get a great start off the line, but after a few corners found himself in sixth and behind the Williams of Maldonado. The Finn also seemed to lack the outright pace of his Lotus teammate Grosjean. He remained patient and when the cards were down he found a way past Hamilton to claim second place before the Briton’s race ended in the wall.
In fact, late in the race much was expected of the McLaren driver, but the surge of speed he found in Canada two weeks earlier did not materialise – quite the opposite actually transpired as his rear tyres went ‘over the cliff’ and he became fodder for those behind. Raikkonen zipped past with no problems, but then Maldonado arrived on the scene and it all ended in tears for both – Hamilton smashing into the wall and ripping the right front of the MP4-27 and Maldonado limping home in tenth with his nose cone ripped off. Third and fourth place had been beckoning for the pair.
The reason Hamilton was running in the midfield near Maldonado, rather than in second place after his second stop was again down to a massive fumble by the McLaren crew. After doing a sub-three second first stop, they comprehensively messed up the second stop as the first high tech jack failed to lift the car, and then the guy handling the spare jack seemed to struggle to even lift the second jack, let alone place it to lift the car. Another scene out of the Keystone Cops which cost their driver well over 10 seconds, second place and probably the race.
Afterwards Hamilton, flanked by McLaren spin doctors, was magnanimous when interviewed by the media, “Big congratulations to Fernando. It was a tough day for us, but that’s life. You have to deal with it. We were a long way off winning today.”
“Sorry Romain, we lost the alternator – there’s nothing we could do about it,” was the message that came over the Frenchman’s radio from his engineer. Heartbreak for the likable Frenchman who is edging ever closer to that elusive first win at the pinnacle of the sport.
With a smile on his face Grosjean reflected on his luckless day, “The car stopped, the engine stopped and I think it was because we had an alternator problem. The race was going perfect, we had a good start and it was a good performance. I thought I would get my first win because we were looking quicker than Ferrari. I am disappointed I didn’t get the chance to overtake.”
Thus in the end it was Raikkonen who bagged the big points for Lotus. The Iceman said, “I am never happy if I don’t win. I had a good start but I was blocked by Maldonado and had to back off, meaning I lost a few places. There was a lot of fighting in the race. We got second place, which is not too bad, but it would have been nice for the team to get both drivers on the podium.”
Finally the (long) wait for a chance to climb back on to an F1 podium ended for Michael Schumacher. With third place he scored his best result since his comeback a couple of years ago – making it an astounding 155 career grand prix podium finishes, and his first since the Chinese GP in 2006.
The veteran German was in just about every battle on track, and at one stage was down to 17th. But he kept at it, right to the very end when he was harried by Mark Webber right to the flag.
“I didn’t think about a podium at all. I asked my guys at the end of the race where I finished and when they told me third, I couldn’t believe it. You lose count of where you are, it was busy at the end of the race,” said Schumacher who started 12th on the grid.
Making it a clean-sweep of the top four places for the veterans was Webber, who started from 19th but nevertheless – despite going wheel to wheel with just about everyone on track – managed to carve his way to fourth place and was challenging hard for third place as the chequered flag dropped.
The Australian summed up his afternoon, “It was another crazy day. It’s difficult to read what will happen on a Sunday at the moment. We’re all winging it in terms of strategy. Maybe if I had started at the front, I might not have had the clean run I had from the back. In the end, I got a lot of points so I am happy and it’s a good result for the team.”
Webber reported to his team over the radio that he had seen Schumacher using the DRS during the yellow flag period, but team chief Ross Brawn defended his driver, saying he informed Schumacher that he couldn’t use his DRS while the yellow flags were out and personally double-checked the data which he says confirmed that Schumacher stopped using his 30m before the yellow flag zone.
Nico Hulkenberg helped himself and Force India to a healthy dose of points with a strong showing on his way to fifth place and their best result this season on a circuit that suited the VJM05.
“P5 is a great achievement. It was a difficult race, it felt long, and I had to battle with the car and other things but I profited a lot from people dropping out in front of us. I am happy,” declared Hulkenberg.
He said, “After 10 laps, it looked like a one stop might work but, if you’re trying to do one stop less than anybody else, it’s over when the safety car comes out. If we knew the car was coming out, we might have taken a stop then.”
Splitting the Force India duo was Nico Rosberg, in sixth, who struggled with grip issues on the Mercedes and in the end was glad to survive to the end and bag some useful points against his expectations.
“It felt like I was going to finish 15th at one point, so I am pleased with sixth. It was a difficult race and it was a great call for strategy at the end. It gave me many positions. Tyre temperature and degradation [management] was key today, it was such a challenge to get it right,” reflected Rosberg.
Relative to his teammate, Jenson Button, was way off the pace in the race and despite topping a practice session on Friday was never seriously in contention as his poor form continued to plague him on the streets of Valencia. More often than not his McLaren slugged it out with regular back pack cars and had it not been for mishaps to the front runners he would have been well out of the points. Eighth was his unlikely reward on the day.
He summed up his race, “Twelve years of experience doesn’t help you this year. I tried moves here and there and nothing worked out, but the car felt reasonably good in the race. The strategy was fine, but we didn’t have any luck.”
Incidentally, he predicted a boring race after his lacklustre qualifying…how wrong he was!
Much was expected from both Sauber and Williams for the race, but both teams will return home to their bases, frustrated by wasted opportunities in Spain.
Sergio Perez salvaged two points for the team with ninth place, and Maldonado limped home in tenth.
Kamui Kobayashi was targeting a good result on a circuit that appeared to suit his package, and was running as high as third at one stage, but after the restart he came together with Felipe Massa moments after the safety car ducked into the pits. The incident ended the Japanese driver’s race and Massa’s race was compromised thereafter – the Brazilian finishing 16th.
Earlier Kobayashi tangled with Bruno Senna as he tried a move up the inside of Senna, but space ran out and Senna appeared to be unsighted. Nevertheless the stewards deemed the incident to be the Williams driver’s fault and slapped him with a drive through penalty.
In retrospect the game changing incident happened on lap 28, when Jean Eric Vergne swerved his Toro Rosso into Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham as they battled wheel to wheel. The French rookie suffered a rear puncture, with Kovalainen limping back to the pits with a front tyre puncture, but the debris caused by the contact littered the track and the safety car was deployed.
At this stage Vettel led comfortably by over 20 seconds and at the restart, with all the cars bunched up, he did not easily pull away from Grosjean. A few laps later it was game over for the world champion anyway…
Note: Since this report was written:
Maldonado was penalised and lost 10th place, read report here>>>
Vergne and Kobayashi were handed grid penalties for the next race, read report here>>>
The Sauber driver tried a move up the inside of Senna, but there was simply no space. Senna did not see him, went to take the racing line and they made contact. Kobayashi needed a new front wing, but Senna did well to avoid hitting the wall with an amazing save of the car.
Subbed by AJN.
Grand Prix of Europe, Valencia – Sunday, 24 June 2012
|2||9||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus-Renault||57||+6.4 secs||5||18|
|3||7||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||57||+12.6 secs||12||15|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||57||+13.6 secs||19||12|
|5||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||57||+19.9 secs||8||10|
|6||8||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||57||+21.1 secs||6||8|
|7||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||57||+22.8 secs||10||6|
|8||3||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||57||+24.6 secs||9||4|
|9||15||Sergio Perez||Sauber-Ferrari||57||+27.7 secs||15||2|
|10||18||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||57||+34.6 secs||3||1|
|11||19||Bruno Senna||Williams-Renault||57||+35.9 secs||14|
|12||16||Daniel Ricciardo||STR-Ferrari||57||+37.0 secs||17|
|13||21||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham-Renault||57||+75.8 secs||20|
|14||20||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham-Renault||57||+94.6 secs||16|
|15||25||Charles Pic||Marussia-Cosworth||57||+96.5 secs||23|
|16||6||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||56||+1 Lap||13|
|17||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||56||+1 Lap||21|
|18||23||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT-Cosworth||56||+1 Lap||22|
|19||4||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren-Mercedes||55||+2 Laps||2|
|Ret||10||Romain Grosjean||Lotus-Renault||40||+17 Laps||4|
|Ret||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||33||+24 Laps||1|
|Ret||14||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber-Ferrari||33||+24 Laps||7|
|Ret||17||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Ferrari||26||+31 Laps||18|
|DNS||24||Timo Glock||Marussia-Cosworth||0||+57 Laps||24|
Note – Glock did not take part due to a stomach bug.
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