Alonso victorious in Valencia as round eight delivers drama and excitement from the start TOM WILKINSON reports on the European Grand Prix.
Formula 1 in 2012 couldn’t possibly get more exciting, with seven different winners in the opening seven races, so close in both championships, the season has been electric. But the European Grand Prix provided yet another thrilling race and I thought it was the best race so far this season.
Qualifying was mixed once again, Vettel started on Pole with Hamilton alongside. Maldonado was a start performer in third and Grosjean alongside. Nico Hulkenberg lined up eighth as he out qualified team mate Paul Di Resta in tenth. Both Ferrari’s didn’t make it into the shootout, Alonso starts 11th alongside Schumacher, Felipe Massa was 13th and a brilliant performance from Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen in 16th position. But the shock qualifier was Mark Webber down in 19th place, the Australian had been struggling earlier throughout Saturday with reliability.
The five red lights went out to signal the start of the 57 lap race, and Sebastian Vettel got a lightning start off the line. Hamilton got away well too, Maldonado and Raikkonen almost touch through turn one. Romain Grosjean was supreme and brave in taking advantage and third place from the Venezuelan in turn two. Paul Di Resta skips turn two in order to avoid contact with his team mate. Raikkonen and Rosberg both lost position in the first few corners. Fernando Alonso made terrific progress on lap one in the Ferrari at his home grand prix.
By the second lap Vettel was almost two seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was coming under increased pressure from the Lotus of Romain Grosjean behind. Mark Webber wasn’t making much progress, he was struggling to get through the pack. Felipe Massa was hoping for another good performance, he was trying to pass Paul Di Resta, but the Force India was on good form this weekend. By lap ten the lead Vettel had was ten seconds, the pace of the RedBull was much more than the likes of McLaren and Ferrari. It was a flashback almost to 2010 / 2011 when the Red Bulls were so dominant and controlling.
Controlled is what Romain Grosjean was when he passed Lewis Hamilton for second position. It was an important move for the Frenchman as being stuck behind the McLaren was ruining his strategy. Lotus encouraged Romain to push and go for it. The gap he pulled over Hamilton was impressive.
On lap 18 the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher had a long train of cars behind. The Mercedes was on a different strategy and was beginning to struggle with the pace, some of those behind had fresh tyres on meaning they were able to push much more. The action was terrific to watch as the cars were ducking and diving. But it all ended in tears for Kamui Kobayashi and Bruno Senna as they collided. Senna had the racing line but Kobayashi went for the overtake on the inside. The wall closed in, Senna didn’t leave enough room, Kobayashi didn’t back out and the two came together, scattering carbon fibre and debris everywhere. The result was a drive through penalty for Senna, which I felt was harsh as really, Kamui should have probably backed out. It wasn’t a done move by the point of contact, I felt it was just a racing incident.
Jean Eric Vergne was involved in an incident too, Heikki Kovalainen was the unlucky one involved. Vergne made a pass on the Caterham don the ling DRS straight, but then moved over on Heikki deliberately. A silly move by the Frenchman, he chopped the Caterham and caused damage to both cars. The Toro Rosso driver received a ten place grin penalty for the next race at Silverstone. The debris on the track had to be cleared, the Safety Car was deployed.
It was a busy pit lane during the Safety Car period, Lewis Hamilton stopped along with Alonso who he was battling with. But disaster struck with yet another McLaren pit stop. This time the front jack failed, the front of the car couldn’t be lifted for the tyre change. A spare jack was required but Hamilton lost a heap of time, and the position to Alonso and Raikkonen. It was a disaster for McLaren, it was a 14 second pit stop. The Safety Car was a disaster for race leader Sebastian Vettel as his enormous lead was whittled down to nothing.
On the re-start it was Alonso who got the best get away as he passed Romain Grosjean into second place. The Lotus just couldn’t defend against the home favourite. The Ferrari was now second, but the leader Sebastian Vettel who also got away well, slowed down. His car ground to a halt and the man who had controlled the race from the very start in such dominant fashion, was out. It was an alternator that was later blamed for the failure, but Vettel was visibly angry as he threw his gloves in frustration. But just a few laps later, Romain Grosjean also stopped. The Lotus with the same problem just slowed to a stop. The alternator again being the problem.
It was Kimi Raikkonen in the sole remaining Lotus who was catching Lewis Hamilton in second. The flying Fin just couldn’t quite manage to get past the McLaren, it was a close battle. The sister McLaren of Jenson Button was losing places to the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and the sole remaining Red Bull of Mark Webber. It has not been the best of races once again for Jenson. Force India have been strong all weekend but they started to fall back towards the end of the race, the tyre degradation playing a major part at this late stage. Michael Schumacher was making good progress, he was taking advantage of the slower cars ahead. Mark Webber was following just behind along with Jenson Button.
With just two laps remaining Kimi Raikkonen got the job done on Lewis Hamilton and moved up into second place behind Alonso. It was a cool move once again from the ice ma after a thrilling battle between the two former world champions. Maldonado was now pressuring Hamilton as the tyres were falling away dramatically. Pastor was right behind the McLaren, ducking and darting, looking for a way through. But when he did make the move, Hamilton closed him off. Pastor was on the outside, and over the curbs. But as he looked to get back onto the track, he should have cut the corner and given the position back to the McLaren. But the Williams jumped the curb, clipped Hamilton and sent him into the barriers with just two laps remaining. It was a ridiculous move by the Venezuelan, he should have accepted he had lost the corner and the racing line. Lewis Hamilton was absolutely furious, thumping the steering wheel in anger. He had lost second place and valuable points in the race. Pastor Maldonado was later handed a 20 second time penalty, dropping him to 12th position and out of the points. Pastor has great potential as a Formula 1 driver, but I feel he still has plenty to learn, especially if he is to gain the full respect of his competitors as this is not his first controversial incident.
With Hamilton out that promoted Michael Schumacher to third position. But the victory went to home favourite Fernando Alonso, who won in great style around this challenging Valencia street circuit. Kimi Raikkonen was second for Lotus and Michael Schumacher in third, his first podium since 2006, and the oldest man on the podium since Jack Brabham in 1973.
Alonso celebrated in front of his home fans, It was an emotional podium celebration for the two time world champion.
After yet another thrilling race in 2012, what will round nine bring? It’s our home race, Silverstone. I’ll be previewing the 2012 British Grand Prix and reporting Live from inside the circuit. David Hooper will be reviewing what promises to be another spectacular British Grand Prix. You can of course keep up to date with all the latest F1 news, just follow me on Twitter @TomWilkinsonF1 #TWF1 and right here too at www.wheelworldreviews.co.uk.