History is normally a pretty good indicator of what one can expect from a race track. Since joining the Formula One calendar in 2008, no driver has won from further back than forth place on the starting grid – with most overtaking as a result of cleverly planned pit stop strategies, rather than on-track manoeuvres.
Well this weekend’s race in Valencia properly dispelled any notion that it’s track doesn’t allow for exciting racing, although possibly due to the volatility teams experience from track to track, as oppose to unlocking of the circuit’s ‘hidden’ potential.
But to be honest I couldn’t care less about the cause, all I know is that one way or the other today’s race provided all the highs and lows we want to see in Formula One. A day that saw local boy Fernando Alonso coming from 11th on the grid to claim his second victory of the season, to put himself back on top in the Drivers’ Championship.
“It’s really difficult to express in words what is the feeling at the moment,” said an emotional Alonso. “Winning the home grand prix is something unique, a very special feeling.”
This outcome was largely thanks to mechanical failure for Sebastien Vettel, who had romped to a twenty second lead around half distance in his Red Bull. He looked set to cruise home to victory before a safety car period, brought on by one slow moving oaf attempting to overtake a Caterham, bunched the pack. Moments later the reigning World Champion ground to a halt.
Notably no safety car was introduced to clear the Red Bull, despite imminent death for marshals who were rolling Vettel’s stricken RB8 down the road as drivers’ rounded the nearby corner at 300km/h. Yet race control deemed the safety car necessary to clear a few small bits of Torro Rosso. I digress…
Alonso was on maximum attack off the line and had already made up a few places at his first stop, which helped him jump Kimi Raikkonen and the capricious Pastor Maldonado. Rejoining the track in heavy traffic, Alonso was ruthless in his progress through the bunch, allowing him to emerge the other side close behind third place Hamilton.
Hamilton had a decent enough start, maintaining his second place but leaving Vettel to pull out an alarming lead early on – which was somewhat out of character for Lewis as he seems to only have an attack mode in his driving arsenal. None-the-less the Brit maintained his position through to the safety car period when a number of drivers pulled in for a second stop.
Unfortunately for Lewis his pit-crew pulled another ‘McLaren’ and dropped his car off the front jack – leaving Lewis with no front wheels for a few vital seconds that allowed Alonso into second, which eventually became first when Vettel’s woes struck a few laps later.
Things went from bad to worse for the former World Champion when the Williams of Maldonado appeared on his inside; Lewis, in all his wisdom and with no grip left on his rear tyres (meaning the pass was inevitable), closed the door leaving the Venezuelan with nowhere to go. The collision, however, gave Lewis a direct line to his date with the concrete wall. Maldonado limped home to tenth without a front wing – however there was nothing limp about his post race comment’s on the incident.
“He tried to put me off the track,” said Maldonado. “He didn’t leave any room for me to stay on and do the corner side by side. I jumped over the kerb and I couldn’t avoid the accident.”
Lewis on the other hand defended his aggressive defence despite acknowledging that his rear tyres had given up the ghost.
“My tyres were gone. I don’t know where I would have finished,” said Hamilton. “You never let people past, you’ve got to race for every position you can get.”
Fourth place qualifier Romain Grosjean kept his head down through the pit stops to find himself chasing down Alonso for victory. Unfortunately the Frenchman’s Lotus didn’t have the same ideas as an alternator failure put him out of the race, leaving team-mate Kimi Raikkonen through to claim second after a late pass on the fading Hamilton.
The incident with Maldonado then allowed Michael Schumacher to claim his first podium since returning to the sport two years ago, followed by 19th-place qualifier Mark Webber’s Red Bull – who was incredibly pessimistic about race prospects after Saturday’s qualifying was marred by mechanical problems.
That wraps up what was arguably the most exciting European Grand Prix since 2008 – if not the most exciting street circuit race in recent history. I can only hope that the 2012 Formula One season continues in the same vein.
1. Alonso – Ferrari
2. Raikkonen – Lotus-Renault
3. Schumacher – Mercedes
4. Webber – Red Bull-Renault
5. Hulkenberg – Force India-Mercedes
6. Rosberg – Mercedes
7. Di Resta – Force India-Mercedes
8. Button – McLaren-Mercedes
9. Perez – Sauber-Ferrari
10. Maldonado – Williams-Renault