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Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag for Ferrari as he won a wonderful, eventful European Grand Prix to the delight of his home fans at Valencia. In a race that had a bit of everything, Alonso was opportunistic, put in the fast charge when he needed it, pulled off the overtaking manoeuvres and stayed out of trouble in the chaos around him to take a memorable victory especially having started outside the top 10. Kimi Raikkonen was second for the Lotus in a considered drive that bodes well for his and Lotusâ€™ future. It was great delight for Michael Schumacher as he clinched the final podium place in his first podium since his return.
It could all have ended so differently had it not been for a safety car incident and a spate of retirements that followed it. Sebastian Vettel who was on pole had stormed ahead and was cruising with Romain Grosjean in second place well ahead of Hamilton who was in third at that stage. But Vettel was forced to retire and surrendered his lead to Alonso in the process. Grosjean followed suit a few laps down the road and Hamilton came together with Maldonado late in the race to crash out of a probable podium place.
Mark Webber in the Red Bull finished 4th just behind Schumacher having started way down in 19th place. Hulkenberg lead a double points finish for Force India in 5th place with Paul di Resta finishing 7th. Rosberg was the Mercedes in the Force India sandwich as he finished in 6th. Button had a troubled race and finally finished in 8th while Perez put in a calm race to pick up points in 9th. Maldonado had the opportunity to make a clean pass into the podium, failed to do so and ended up in 10th but is under investigation for his clash with Hamilton. Senna is in place to pick up the spoils if the stewards rule against the Columbian.
It was a great day for Il Cavallino Rampante as all the drivers on the podium were Ferrari drivers. The two former Ferrari drivers were indeed World Champions with the team and the current one is now in the lead of the championship 20 points ahead of Mark Webber who benefitted from Vettelâ€™s and Hamiltonâ€™s DNFs. Red Bull still lead the constructors championship ahead of Mclaren and Lotus.
When the 5 lights went out, the familiar fast starters once again delivered. The Lotusâ€™ in general and Grosjean in particular has been spectacular off the start this year and squeezed past Maldonado into 3rd place. His team mate also had a great start but was held off by brusque solid defending by Williamsâ€™ Maldonado. Ferrari have also traditionally got going off the grid and both Alonso and Massa picked up 3 places each in the first lap. Alonso moved into 8th challenging Hulkenberg while Massa in 10th was challenging the other Force India of Paul di Resta. Kobayashi in the Sauber was the other gainer moving into 4th. Mercedes unfortunately went backwards with Rosberg falling to 10th and Schumacher failing to make up any places in 12th.
Meanwhile, Vettel opening a 7.6 sec lead after 5 laps setting purple sectors all the way in the clean front air while Grosjean monstering Hamilton in the fight for 2nd place. Button who also had a poor start, began his recovery and overtook Schumacher on lap 6. Grosjean who had been harrying Hamilton all this while finally got past the McLaren diving down the outside in the first part of the chicane holding his line before overtaking on the exit, this time on the inside line. The move was crucial to any hopes he had off challenging for the lead as Vettel by lap 10 had opened out a 10 second lead.
First round of Pit stops & the Alonso charge
The struggling Jensen Button was the first to pit on lap 10 as McLaren strapped on some mediums. Massa followed on the next lap with another slick Ferrari stop to also switch to the medium compound tyres. Â·Anything that any racer does, Alonso can do too, and he did exactly what Grosjean did to move ahead of Hulkenberg into 7th place. The move unleashed the Prancing Horse and a lap later, the double world champion then made a masterful move on Maldonado, who had been passed by Kimi as well, a lap earlier. Lewis pitted on lap 13 and came out in 11th place just behind Bruno Senna.Â·Alonso pit from 3rd place with a slick pit stop that brought him out just in front of Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel, the race leader finally pit on lap 16 and with Grosjean following suit came out back in the lead with Grosjean still in P2. Alonso was doing a superb recovery drive from his midfield starting place as the Ferrari driver passed Webber, Senna and Schumacher into 6th place behind Nico Rosberg who was yet to pit.
Schumacher, Kimi, Webber, Senna, and Kobayashi had all bunched up and battling away with Schumacher keeping them all at bay. Raikkonen made it cleanly past Michael and Webber pit on lap 20 to get out of that particular tussle. But Kobayashi and Senna came together forcing Senna into a full 360 spin and a shredded tyre to spoil his race. Alonso then passed Di Resta into 4th place behind Hamilton who was about 4 sec behind Grosjean who in turn was just under 20 sec behind Vettel far away in the lead by lap 22. Di Resta was in 6th place having been passed by a charging Raikkonen and ahead of Maldonado. However he soon pit and came out in 14th place. Senna meanwhile got a drive through penalty for the earlier racing incident to rub salt into his previous wounds.Â·By lap 27, the order seemed fairly well set with Vettel a full pit stop ahead of Grosjean in second place who inturn was about 10 sec ahead of Lews Hamilton in P3. Alonso was deliberately reeling Hamilton just under 5 sec behind the McLaren but was in turn being caught by Raikkonen.
The Safety Car and another botched McLaren pit stop
Every now and then a seemingly innocuous racing incident is the trigger for a massive ripple effect. That is precisely what happened when the Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne crashed into the Caterham of Kovalainen forcing the safety car to come out. Opportunistically Alonso, Grosjean, Hamilton, Vettel & Raikkonen all pit only for Hamiltonâ€™s front jack to fail giving up places to Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Ricciardo, remarkably having pit only the once, stayed out to slot into 4th place behind the safety car.
Behind Hamilton were the Mercedesâ€™ of Rosberg and Schumacher in 7th and 8th followed by Webber in 9th and Maldonado in the final points scoring position. The Force Indiaâ€™s that had showed so much promise were outside the points in 11th and 12th with Massa and Button fighting low down the grid in 14th and 15th. Crucially though Maldonado and Hulkenberg had pit the second time which would give them the advantage over the cars in front of them that were yet to stop. From a racing point of view the safety car bunched the cars up nicely giving everyone the race between the Red Bull and the Lotus that we all had been waiting for.
The Restart and Vettel retires
Brave Alonso squeezed past the Lotus even as Vettel stayed out of trouble in the lead. Hamilton then passed Raikkonen with an opportunistic move of his own albeit seemingly under the yellow flags. Completely against the run of play, Vettel suddenly slowed and then stopped as Adrian Newey held his head in his hands as the Red Bull spluttered into oblivion. Vettel was understandably frustrated and threw his gloves into the fence in a fit of rage as the race win that seemed inevitable suddenly went up in smoke. Joining Vettel on the sidelines was the disappointed Massa who was hit in the side by Kobayashi to fall to the back of the grid. But, his former teammate, Michael Schumacher was doing a superb job and was soundly in 5th place ahead of Pastor Maldonado in 6th albeit with a stop still remaining.
All this while at the head of the field, Alonso who had inherited the race lead, was doing purple sectors to eventually distance give him some breathing space from the super Grosjean behind. Unbelievably though Grosjean on lap 42 ground to a halt taking the Lotus driver out of the race with a drive issue thanks to the alternator. This left Alonso in the lead by about 4 sec ahead of a charging Hamilton who was being pushed by his crew to chase down the Ferrari. Raikkonen though was less than a second behind Hamilton and was ready to pounce when the opportunity presented itself.
On lap 44, Raikkonen got a message on his radio telling him that the Ferrari of Alonso was there for the taking if he could get past Hamilton. Getting past Hamilton was the first step in that process and the Finn was literally in the in the wheel tracks of the McLaren as he closed the gap to half a second by lap 46. The gap to Alonso was reasonably stationary at just about 4 seconds and Alonso seemed to have learnt from his experience in Canada and was taking care of his tyres. Maldonado was in fourth well detached from the trio in front and a couple of seconds ahead of the Force Indias in 5th and 6th. The game of cat and mouse continued as Alonso gently extended his lead to 4.2 sec by lap 49 with Raikkonen still unable to make the pass on Hamilton. Meanwhile Hamiltonâ€™s teammate was going through the wars as first Schumacher and then Webber muscled their way past Button who struggled with an absolute lack of grip.
Going into the last 7 laps, the pace of the cars was becoming impossible to gauge as Raikkonenâ€™s challenge faded one lap only to perk up the next. Similarly, Hamilton cut into Alonsoâ€™s lead by half a second one lap only to be forced to hold station the next. The drivers on a late race charge were Maldonado who was chasing Kimi down at a second a lap while Schumacher and Webber on the fresh tyres â€“ they pit on lap 38 and 41 â€“ were making up time and places hand over fist as they bulldozed their way through the field.
With two laps left to go, Raikkonen finally made his move, once Hamilton defended, twice he defended but eventually had to yield the place as Raikkonen moved into 2nd place. This left Hamilton in Maldonadoâ€™s clutches and after some wheel to wheel battling the duo clashed knocking out Hamilton losing his front wing in the process. The beneficiary was Michael Schumacher as he slid ahead to clinch the final podium.
Final Point Scorers
Alonso (Ferrari), Raikkonen (Lotus), Schumacher (Mercedes), Webber (Red Bull), Hulkenberg (Force India), Rosberg (Mercedes), Di Resta (Force India), Button (McLaren), Perez (Sauber), Maldonado (Williams)
- 07/07/2012 15:35 - Alonso dominates Final Practice session at Silverstone, Top 10 separated by less than a second
- 06/07/2012 20:17 - Hamilton fastest in soaking wet Friday Silverstone Practice, Mercedes duo show strong pace
- 24/06/2012 19:50 - Vettel's race wrecked by Engine blow, Webber displays steely resolve to finish 4th in Valencia