The European Grand Prix is again hosted on the streets in the Spanish port city of Valencia. Not having the best reputation for the quality of the racing, it is hoped that the close nature of the 2012 season, along with the new Pirelli tyres and DRS could make the race a little more exciting. Lots of questions, but everyone wants to know if we could have 8 different winners from the first 8 races, Michael Schumacher, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen have been touted all week as potential suitors.
Another beautiful day for race day in Valencia, which turned out to be the hottest day of the weekend. With the same front row as in Canada two weeks ago Sebastian Vettel was eager to win the race from pole position. Lewis Hamilton was hunting for another win, but the Lotus’ of Roman Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were looking fast on Friday, so could also spring a surprise result which could have made eight different winners from the first eight races. Also interesting to see would be the progress by Webber though the field after not making it into Q2, fighting from the back, something most people would agree is difficult in Valencia.
It was announced in the morning by the Marussia team that Timo Glock wouldn’t be taking part in the race, after having a intestinal infection for most of the week. On medical grounds it was advised that he shouldn’t race, leaving only Charles Pic to race for the team as the ‘test’ driver Maria de Villota doesn’t have a super licence that allows you to race in Formula 1.
Sebastian Vettel made a fantastic start from pole position, and led into the first kink, Hamilton followed in second.The Williams of Pastor Maldonado was quickly ambushed by a fast starting Romain Grosjean, stayed ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Jenson Button didn’t make a very good start, and he dropped behind Michael Schumacher, outside of the top 10 and was also on the medium tyre, so much slower at this point in the race. Thankfully there were no major accidents unlike in the previous support races, and by the end of the first lap Grosjean had got up very close behind Hamilton, Quietly the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi had taken 4th, behind the Lotus. Alonso was down in eighth, making a little progress and looking strong in the Ferrari.
In the lead Sebastian Vettel was flying away from Hamilton, where his prediction of an iffy race pace was playing out. By the end of the third lap, he was four seconds in the lead, well clear of the DRS detection limit. His teammate Mark Webber was struggling down the order, only making up two places at the start to 17th position, again on the medium compound tyre. With the battle behind, Lotus really wanted Grosjean to pass Hamilton in order for them to challenge Red Bull for the win, Lotus really felt that they had the race pace in order to be able to do it in Valencia. Any hold back from Hamilton would ruin the strategy for them, especially if Vettel got to a point where he had a pit stop in hand.
Lap 6 and Jenson had managed to get ahead of Michael, something he really needed to go in order for his strategy to work out for the better with now Rosberg ahead of him on the road. Vettels lead at the front was now over 7 seconds, over a second a lap.Just down the road, Massa made a move on Paul di Resta into the hairpin, but unable to pull it off, Massa tried again the next lap and he was still able to retain the advantage.
Down at the back of the field Charles Pic made a rather audacious move on Karthikeyan, loosing most of his front wing in the process. Up at the front on lap 11 Grosjean finally managed to pass Hamilton for second, but Vettel had amassed a huge lead.
Jenson was one of the first to stop on lap 12, along with Sergio Perez in the Sauber, fitting the medium tyre. A lap later and the Ferrari of Massa also pits. It would be some feat if Perez were able to do one of his one-stops runs pitting so early in the race. Upfront Kimi Raikkonen positioned his Lotus on the outside of Pastor Maldonado at Turn 13. Maldonado has no choice but to give way to the Lotus driver. A couple of laps later, the Ferrari of Alonso also overtook Maldonado, who seemed to be struggling on his tyres.
Lap 16 and Hamilton pitted from 3rd place, along with Kobayashi. Vettel pitted on Lap 17 with Grosjean following in behind with Alonso.
Michael Schumacher had a whole group of cars behind him, finding himself in sixth place ahead of the Williams of Bruno Senna who hadn’t pitted with Fernando Alonso & Mark Webber behind. Fernando Alonso was on a charge passing Mark Webber around the outside of Turn Two and then passing Senna around the outside at Turn 12. At thje front of the field, Paul di Resta hadn’t pitted and was ahead of Grosjean in 2nd place, however with the older tyres wasn’t finding it very easy to defend from those with the newer rubber. Schumacher was also struggling with the tyres, deciding to pit on lap 19 after backing up a lot of the field. With Grosjean overtaking Di Resta, Vettel was 19 seconds in the lead, almost a whole pit stop,
In the pack there is contact between Kobayashi and Senna. The Sauber driver was trying to overtake down the inside, but that was covered by Senna, with them making contact and launching the Williams into a spin hitting the inside wall before the swing bridge corner causing a rear puncture. With so much debris on the racetrack it would be debatable if they would deploy the safety car, they didn’t. Bruno would later be given a drive through penalty as the officials believed that he didn’t give him enough space on the inside. Further up the road di Resta was still struggling, firstly getting passed by Alonso, followed by Raikkonen and Maldonado.
Hamilton was still not looking good on pace, and Alonso started catching up, and Grosjean was slowly catching Vettel, albeit at a slow rate.
Further back there was a silly accident between Kovalainen and Vergne leaving the Caterham with a front left puncture and the Frenchman with a right rear puncture. With debris across the track from the STR going far too fast, the safety car is deployed. All the cars behind Vettel were able to come in to the pits straight away. Hamilton had another shocking pitstop, lasting 14 seconds, loosing him valuable time. It was later traced to a broken front jack, which was quickly replaced. Vettel pitted the lap later and was able to retain the advantage from Grosjean.
The safety car came in at the end of Lap 33, and Fernando Alonso made a superb overtake on Grosjean into Turn 2, and Massa hit Kobayashi. With Alonso now in 2nd the leader slowed and then stopped, Vettel was out of the Grand Prix. A rare mechanical problem from the Red Bull had the pit wall in disbelief. Would Grosjean be able to overtake Alonso to keep the hope of eight winners from eight races? Having not stopped during the safety car, Ricciardo was up to 3rd, but was quickly overtaken.
Mark Webber wasn’t having a very good race, Lap 38 he was overtaken by Maldonado, Hulkenburg and di Resta, A terrible few laps from Red Bull, leaving Webber at the back of the queue.
Grosjean slowed to a halt in exactly the same manor as Vettel, he could have been the challenger for Alonso in the race as he had the better race pace and tyre degradation over the Ferrari. This promoted Hamilton back up to 2nd, ahead of Raikkonen and Maldonado, who was having another good run in Spain for Williams. Raikkonen could be the 8th winner? Amazingly the Caterham of Petrov was in 10th, in a points paying position, but had faster cars behind chasing him down.
Lap 49 and there is yet more contact, this time between the Caterham of Petrov, and the STR of Ricciardo, knocking off the front wing of Petrov and launching the STR into the air.
Alonso up front was starting to pull away from Raikkonen, who appeared just to be getting out the dirty air of the Ferrari Rosberg after a later pitstop on newer tyres was setting fastest laps, and his teammate was also doing well, overtaking Button. On a roll Michael also overtook Perez and then di Resta, Hulkenburg was the the next target.
Lap 55 and Lewis Hamilton was defending hard making a mistake which dropped him into Kimi Raikkonen. Not succeeding the first time, Raikkonen tried to overtake again, and managed to get passed. Hamilton was really struggling with his rear tyres, making him fall into Maldonado. Maldonado ended going up the outside, being forced out into the middle of the chicane by Hamilton, but instead of cutting the chicane, Maldonado turned back into the corner, catching the back of the McLaren forcing him into the wall. Hamilton out of the GP, and leaving Maldonado will no front wing.
This left Alonso to win from the Lotus of Raikkonen, and the strong finish from Schumacher to take 3rd, the best result since his return to the sport with Mercedes. Maldonado ended up 10th, but this was taken away with a 20 second penalty after the race, promoting his teammate to 10th for the final point. Hulkenburg finished 5th, a strong weekend from Force India who could have been higher if Di Resta had deviated from his one-stop, which was scuppered by the safety car.
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h44:16.449
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 6.421
3. Schumacher Mercedes + 12.639
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 13.628
5. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 19.993
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 21.176
7. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 22.866
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 24.653
9. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 27.777
10. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 34.653
11. Senna Williams-Renault + 35.961
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 37.041
13. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1:15.871
14. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1:34.654
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 1:36.551
16. Massa Ferrari + 1 lap
17. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
18. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
19. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 2 laps