“Most drivers would put Valencia in their bottom three tracks, but we had a reasonable race today.”
Mark Webber would say that, since he moved from 19th on the grid to finish fourth. But that drive was only one of many entertaining aspects of a European Grand Prix that blew away the impression of Valencia as a hopeless place to stage a motor race.
This Grand Prix had everything, the good news for the locals being a brilliant victory for Fernando Alonso as he became the first man in 2012 to win more than one race and, in so doing, move himself 20 points ahead in the World Championship.
Alonso did it with typically intelligent and forceful driving, stealing three places on the first lap and gradually moving into the top six, ready to make the most of circumstances that fell in his favour.
The two most notable moments of chance came when Sebastian Vettel, starting from a convincing pole position and looking to have this race sewn up, suddenly stopped with alternator trouble on his Red Bull Renault.
No sooner had we commented on how rare mechanical failures were these days than there was a seemingly identical problem for Romain Grosjean when the fuel pump stopped, the result of alternator trouble on his Renault-engined Lotus. That removed what could have been a major challenge to Alonso who, with another piece of glorious opportunism, had just jumped ahead of Grosjean following a Safety Car period to inherit the space left by the parked Vettel.
But, with memories of the Canadian GP weighing heavy, Ferrari and Alonso went into the final laps wondering if there would be a repeat of the Pirelli tyre performance dropping off the same cliff that had removed Alonso from the lead to nowhere in Montreal. This time, however, that agony would visit Lewis Hamilton and McLaren.
Having started from the front row and always been in the top three, Hamilton was matching Alonso’s leading pace and threatening to close the four-second gap when suddenly there was no rear grip. With a few laps to go, Kimi Raikkonen demoted Hamilton to third. Then came an attack from Pastor Maldonado.
A reminder that these two have history came when the Williams tried to run round the outside of the McLaren on a right-hander in the hope that he would be well-positioned for the next left. Hamilton didn’t leave Maldonado much room, so much so that the Williams had all four wheels across the white line. Maldonado’s mistake at that point was attempting to return, losing steering as he crossed a kerb and crashing into the side of the McLaren.
No points for Hamilton and a clear space for Michael Schumacher – who thought he was ‘about sixth or seventh’ – to make his first visit to the podium since his former life with Ferrari in 2006.
While Schuey embraced his Mercedes mechanics, there was already a debate going on about the seven-time champion having his DRS wide open as he approached waved yellows at the Hamilton/Maldonado collision scene. But, for now, Schumacher was quick to join Alonso and Raikkonen to make it a podium representing 137 Grand Prix wins between them. And all three were Ferrari drivers, past and present.
For Alonso, however, such a sweet victory had been made even better when his Ferrari stopped on the slowing down lap and allowed Fernando a moment to enjoy a rapturous reception from the crowd. Indeed, it had been possible to detect a catch in his voice when saying thanks on the radio to the hard-working Ferrari team.
“It’s difficult to express my feelings,” said Alonso. “Winning this race is probably the best victory I’ve ever had for emotion. Yesterday (Saturday), I was unhappy not in make it into Q3. And now this. Having those new tyres (saved from not running in Q3) made a difference, particularly at the start. An amazing race. With some amazing overtakes and some touches with people here and there. This is all that you can say about F1 in 2012. It’s incredible.”
Few would argue after yet another extraordinary race and arguably the drive of the season so far from this particular winner.
Standings (Drivers Championship)
1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 111 Points
2. Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 91
3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) – 88
4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 85
5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 75
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 73
7. Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 53
8. Jenson Button – 49
Standings (Constructors Championship)
1. Red-Bull Renault – 176 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes – 137
3. Lotus-Renault – 126
4. Ferrari – 122
5. Mercedes – 92
6. Sauber-Ferrari – 60
7. Williams-Renault – 45
8. Force India-Mercedes – 44