Race - Alonso triumphs in Valencia thriller 24 Jun 2012
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso scored a sensational victory for Ferrari - and Spain - in an action-packed 2012 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia on Sunday afternoon, despite starting only 11th. And on a day when neither Lewis Hamilton nor Sebastian Vettel finished, Alonso went back into a healthy world championship lead.
For the first 34 laps Vettel and Red Bull owned the twisty track round the Spanish port. The German lit off from pole position and could not be challenged as Hamilton kept Romain Grosjean bottled up behind his McLaren. Grosjean finally found a way by Hamilton on the 10th lap, but the Lotus driver could not then do anything about Vettel as a largely processional race went past its halfway point.
But then Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso collided with Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham on the 27th lap, prompting the deployment of the safety car on the 28th. It closed up the field until the 34th lap, when racing started again. Vettel immediately leapt back into the lead, but by the end of the lap his Red Bull was missing. It had coasted to a stop by the side of the track.
That wasn't all. Alonso had steadily been moving up ever since the start, when he had jumped into eighth place. He was up to third when the safety car came out, but grabbed a place from Grosjean on the 34th lap when the race restarted and thus inherited the lead upon Vettel's demise.
The Frenchman never gave up and kept the gap at less than a second, but just as a great battle came into prospect, he too suddenly slowed on the 40th lap and stopped by the side of the track with a suspected alternator failure.
That left Hamilton back in second place, delayed after yet another pit-stop drama, this time with the left-front wheel after the front jack appeared to fail. He was having to fend off a hungry Kimi Raikkonen in the other Lotus, who'd lost out to Williams' Pastor Maldonado at the start and then spent the afternoon getting back into a challenging position. He finally got by Hamilton with three laps to go as the McLaren's tyres were finished, but just didn't have time to challenge the Ferrari.
Hamilton was under extreme pressure from Maldonado in the closing laps as the Williams driver closed in, but after running side-by-side for several corners they finally collided, Hamilton's McLaren being pitched into the wall as at least 12 points disappeared.
All of that set the scene for Mercedes' Michael Schumacher and Red Bull's Mark Webber to come slamming through after late tyre stops, on the 44th and 38th laps respectively. They swept by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, McLaren's Jenson Button and Sauber's Sergio Perez, then the Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, before the demise of Hamilton and Maldonado elevated them to third and fourth places. For the German it was the first podium of his comeback, the first for a 43 year-old since Jack Brabham at Brands Hatch in 1970.
Hulkenberg clung on for an excellent fifth for Force India, but Di Resta lost sixth to Rosberg on the final lap. Jenson Button had yet another low-key race to eighth in the second McLaren, holding off Perez as Maldonado slumped to 10th minus his front wing after the Hamilton collision.
The Venezuelan was followed home by his Williams partner Bruno Senna, who got a drive-through penalty for a collision with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, who'd enjoyed a long spell in fourth place prior to the first round of pit stops. Senna later inherited his team mate's single point when stewards added 20 seconds to Maldonado's race time over his clash with Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo ran as high as third at the restart, due to being out of kilter as most of the main runners pitted under the safety car, but was soon shuffled back by those with fresher rubber. He survived a collision with Caterham's Vitaly Petrov to take 12th ahead of the Russian and his recovered team mate Kovalainen. That became 11th after Maldonado's penalty.
Behind them, Charles Pic was Marussia's only starter as Timo Glock remained unwell with his intestinal infection, and the Frenchman was 15th ahead of Felipe Massa, who was in the hunt for some good points until his Ferrari was attacked by Kobayashi's Sauber. The Japanese driver retired and was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Great Britain.
The HRTs both finished this time, with Pedro de la Rosa leading Narain Karthikeyan home in 17th and 18th. After the race, Vergne received a 10-place grid drop for the next round and a 25,000 fine for his collision with Kovalainen.
Alonso now has 111 points, from Webber on 91. Then come Hamilton on 88 and Vettel on 85, as Rosberg moves to fifth on 75 and Raikkonen to sixth on 73.
In the constructors' chase, Red Bull have 176 to McLaren's 137, Lotus's 126, Ferrari's 122 and Mercedes' 92.
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