By Cameron Curwood: Alonso wows his fans in Valencia with stunning European GP victory
Everything went perfectly for Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, allowing him to win the 2012 Grand Prix of Europe, while all his closest rivals hit trouble. The win meant Alonso was the first driver to win two races this season, and also pushed him to the top of the FIA Formula One Drivers’ standings after eight races. The win at the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain was Alonso's twenty-ninth career win and the two-hundred and eighteenth victory for Ferrari.
Kimi Raikkonen finished second in the Lotus-Renault 6.4 seconds behind Alonso, while the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher finished third, a further 6.2 seconds behind.
Today, we had an amazing race.
"It's difficult to express in words," said Alonso about his surprise win on home soil. "Today, we had an amazing race, amazing start, some good fights, I think I remember six or seven overtakings where it was very close, and we touched each other. I touched Grosjean in the restart. All of those little moments can go on the wrong side and you finish the race in the wall, or you can be the winner at the end. And today, we had all the good factors with us and the luck and we have to enjoy this."
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel had looked to dominate the race. He had a great start, lead immediately and had built a gap at one point by as much as nineteen seconds. But problems hit his Red Bull-Renault, and he slowed to stop and retire on lap thirty-three.
"We're not sure what happened," said Vettel once he returned to the pits. "We lost drive and the engine just quit."
A similar problem hit Raikkonen's teammate Romain Grosjean. Grosjean had passed the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton early and was sitting in second behind Alonso after Vettel's retirement. Then he too had the engine suddenly stop. The fact both these retirements were similar and both were Renault engines made most wonder if it was a problem inherent to the Renault, and potentially other cars could be affected. None were, however.
After Grosjean's retirement, Lewis Hamilton was back running in second, but like all Alonso's rivals, hit troubles. With his tires degrading in the last few laps, he was passed by Kimi Raikkonen, and then was challenged by the Williams-Renault of Pastor Maldonado. Hamilton, though, pushed Maldonado wide, and then did not give room for Maldonado at the next corner. The two collided; Hamilton hit the wall, and retired on the spot. Maldonado, somewhat strangely, was given a twenty-second penalty for the altercation after the race.
Hamilton, though, did not seem too upset about his retirement after the race.
"We lost some points today -- fortunately, however, a couple of other drivers fighting at the front also missed out, so it's not the end of the world," he said. "It just makes things a little bit tougher. Today was just a bad day in the office -- but that's motor racing, and I'm already looking forward to the next Grand Prix, my home race at Silverstone."
Kimi Raikkonen, however, did not have a bad day, and was generally competitive all race in his second-place finish.
"I had enough tires to get past Hamilton on, I think it was the second-last or third-last lap," said Raikkonen. "We didn't really have the speed to challenge for the win," he added.
Third-place finisher Michael Schumacher was surprised to get to the podium, only learning he had finished third when he crossed the line.
"It was crossing the line that I asked my guys 'where did we finish?'," said Schumacher. "I saw Webber's pit board and close to the end it showed him eighth and seventh and I knew I was one place ahead of that one. And then boys told me 'that's third, that's podium'. I can't believe that! It's something I didn't really expect."
Schumacher, and fourth-placed Mark Webber had pitted later than most for their last set of tires, and had fresher rubber at the end, allowing them to gain some positions. Webber, incredibly, had started nineteenth on the grid, and drove well to climb up to fourth.
Webber said, "I'm very happy with that, obviously it's been a tough weekend up until today, but you never know what's going to happen. In the middle of the race I wasn't too happy and I didn't really know what was going on. Then there was a bit of attrition at the front and the strategy worked out."
The finish moved Webber up to second in the championship, with 91 points, twenty behind Alonso's tally of 111.
Behind Webber was the first of the Force India cars, with Nico Hulkenberg followed by the other Nico -- Nico Rosberg, who finished sixth in the other Mercedes.
The second Force India of Paul di Resta was seventh, and he was unique in doing a one-stop race, but felt his race was hurt by the safety car period.
"We went very aggressive by only stopping once and in fact we were the only car to pull off this strategy," he said. "Of course, when you're stopping once you really don't want a safety car period and it certainly hurt my race and cost me some track position."
Behind di Resta, in eighth was the McLaren of Jenson Button who has had his struggles recently.
"This was a really difficult race to read," said Button. "I got a poor start, was boxed in at Turn One, and had to lift to prevent Fernando [Alonso] and myself hitting the wall at Turn Two. I don't think we did a bad job in terms of strategy -- the car felt good and kept improving during the race -- but, when the Safety Car was deployed, I think a few others lucked in to a better strategy. And, today, also, we just didn't get lucky."
Ninth-place finisher was Sauber driver Sergio Perez, and the final point position went to the Williams-Renault of Bruno Senna, who benefited from his teammate Maldonado's twenty second penalty. Maldonado thus finished twelfth, behind the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo.
The rest of classified finishers were Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen in the two Caterhams, Charles Pic in the Marussia, Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, then the two HRT cars of Pedro de La Rosa.
Alonso now takes his championship lead, as mentioned, to Lewis Hamilton's home track, at Silverstone in England for the British Grand Prix. "We will do all we can to win this championship. But we still don't have the quickest car and we must push to reach this objective as quickly as possible."
The race takes place on July 8th.