European GP - Alonso, the homecoming hero By: Ferrari S.p.A.
Picture the tableau: Fernando Alonso parks his F2012 in the middle of the track opposite a grandstand packed with deliriously happy fans, all chanting his name as he lays out the Spanish flag on the ground. It's an image that will pass into racing history and came after the Scuderia Ferrari driver delivered a bravura performance to win the European Grand Prix in Valencia. Not only does it make him the only man to have won two races out of the eight held so far this year, it also gives him a commanding lead in the Drivers' classification, as his two nearest rivals in the title race, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton failed to score points today. Felipe Massa had more bad luck than one person should have to deal with in an afternoon and brought his Ferrari home in 16th place.
The cars formed up on the grid, with Fernando and Felipe behind one another in 11th and 13th places, the track temperature was up to 45º. As the lights went out, the two F2012s immediately made up ground, with Fernando going to eighth and Felipe to tenth. By the end of the second lap, pole man Vettel already had a big 4 second lead in the Red Bull, over Hamilton, (McLaren) Grosjean (Lotus,) Kobayashi (Sauber,) Maldonaldo (Williams) and Raikkonen (Lotus) sixth. In eight, Fernando was right on the tail of Hulkenberg in the Force India, with Felipe, now tenth chasing the German's team-mate Di Resta.
In second place, Hamilton was holding up the field as Vettel extended his lead to 6.8 on lap 4. On lap 7, Felipe tried yet another attack on Di Resta, even pulling alongside but he could still not find a way past. In fact, the Brazilian was struggling with a car that felt badly balanced: after the race it was found that debris had damaged the car, reducing its ability to generate downforce. On lap 10, Grosjean outbraked his way past Hamilton to move up to second, while Fernando and Felipe kept harrying their respective Force Indias. Button and Perez were the first to change tyres, coming in on lap 10. Felipe pitted on lap 11. Fernando finally found a way past Hulkenberg to go up to seventh. Raikkonen passed Maldonaldo for fifth, meaning the Venezuelan Williams driver was Fernando's next target. Hamilton changed tyres on lap 13.
Alonso passed the Williams and on lap 14, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Maldonaldo, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and De La Rosa all pitted. Fernando came in next time round, while race leader Vettel and second placed Grojean came in on 16. The Spanish Ferrari driver had managed to get ahead of Raikkonen and Kobayashi by staying on track for that extra lap and he was now in a big group of cars, many of whom had not yet changed tyres. At this stage, it was clear the Spaniard was being more aggressive and assertive than his direct rivals in getting past the slower cars in the group. He got past Webber in the Red Bull to be eighth on lap 18, while Felipe was thirteenth behind Maldonaldo. Fernando was flying on Option tyres and a few moments later he passed Schumacher's Mercedes to go up to sixth, as the German and Webber both pitted together.
By lap 20, Fernando was fifth having passed Raikkonen, while Di Resta ahead of him in fourth had yet to pit. At this point, Felipe had got back up to eighth, which became seventh shortly after. Lap 21 and Fernando passed the Force India to be fourth, behind Vettel, who led Grosjean by almost 20 seconds, with Hamilton a further 4s back in third.
Around lap 26, Hulkenberg started to close on the Brazilian Ferrari driver, with the gap down to 0.4. As the Safety Car came out because of debris when Vergne and Kovalainen collided. Grosjean, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Maldonaldo and Hulkenberg all pitted immediately on lap 28, one lap after Felipe had come in. The Brazilian therefore found himself dropping down the order as the others were able to pit without losing time, while the Safety Car was out. From then on, he clearly had a mountain to climb. The mountain got even steeper when, on lap 34, he had to pit again after Kobayashi tried an aggressive passing move, doing more damage to his car. In all the Brazilian had to make four visits to pit lane today.
Fernando was scything past slower cars and he was third when the Safety Car came in again, behind Vettel and Grosjean. But the Ferrari man was unstoppable today, and as racing resumed he dealt with the Lotus to lie second. Then, on lap 34, a bit of luck came his way, as Vettel had to retire the Red Bull at the side of the track with a technical problem. You did not have to be watching the race to know what had happened as a cheer loud enough to blot out the engine noise came up from the partisan Spanish crowd.
From then on, Fernando managed his lead to the flag, but there was still plenty of action behind him: Grosjean had to retire, which left Hamilton second, but as the McLaren man's paced dropped he got caught by Maldonaldo, with the Venezuelan barging past and pushing the Englishman into the wall and retirement. So with just two laps remaining, Kimi Raikkonen inherited second place and Michael Schumacher finished third to stand on the podium for the first time since he returned to the sport in 2010.
Fernando now sits on top of the Drivers' classification on 111 points, 20 points clear of his nearest rival, Mark Webber, who brought his Red Bull home in fourth place today.