The Valencia circuit has been criticised for providing boring, processional races. Not so this year. The 2012 European Grand Prix was an overtaking fest, mostly due to the high degradation of the Pirelli tyres in the Spanish summer heat. Fernando Alonso produced arguably one of the finest drives in his career to win the race, with Kimi Raikkonen second and Michael Schumacher third for his first podium since returning to Formula One in 2010.
At the start it was all Vettel, as the World Champion rocketed away from Lewis Hamilton at the start, building up a 20 second lead before the first round of pitstops. It was not to be Vettel’s day, however, as his Red Bull coasted to a halt with an engine related issue on lap 34.
Alonso got away well from 11th on the grid to run eighth on the opening lap. Some good overtaking meant he was running third by the time a safety car emerged on lap 29 when an incident between Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen left pieces of wheel, tyre and floor littered all over the track. At the restart, Alonso managed to pass Romain Grosjean to take second, and inherited the lead when Sebastian Vettel retired from the race. Grosjean kept up with Alonso and looked likely to challenge for the lead until his alternator failed, putting him out of the race. From that point, Alonso had only to manage his tyres to the finish, which he duly did to become the first repeat winner of 2012.
Raikkonen finished second to take his third podium of the season. He has been accused of lacking aggression in the early part of the season, but answered that charge with some skillful overtaking, including a classy move around the outside of Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen never looked in contention for the victory, however, but will be happy with a good haul of 18 points which puts him firmly sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
Schumacher had attempted to make a one stop strategy work, which meant he was a bit slow in the early part of the race while managing tyre wear. When it became clear that the degradation was higher than expected, the team switched him to a two stop strategy, and he duly unleashed the speed available in this year’s Mercedes. After his second stop, Schumacher was running 11th, but made a late charge, passing several cars to run fifth on the penultimate lap. Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado tangled while they were running third and fourth, putting Hamilton out of the race and taking off Maldonado’s front wing. Schumacher made quick work of the damaged Williams to snatch third place. The podium is certainly deserved after a very difficult start to the season for the illustrious German. In his own words, “For all my boys – we’ve been criticised lately – it’s just the best answer to give, to get on the podium.”
Mark Webber drove an impressive race to finish fourth, after starting 19th. He was Schumacher’s shadow for most of the race, never really looking like passing the German, but never too far behind.
Force India produced their best result of the season, as Hulkenberg and di Resta finished fifth and seventh respectively. It’s an encouraging result for a team that has been steadily improving over the last few races. They will be hoping to carry on that trend at the British Grand Prix in just under two weeks’ time.
The other promising performance of the day came from Caterham. After the safety car, Vitaly Petrov was running tenth until he lost his front wing against the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. He still managed to finish 13th, ahead of team-mate Heikko Kovalainen. Caterham have been consistently well clear of Marussia and HRT, and fighting with the Toro Rossos. Their first point still eludes the team, but it cannot be far away.
Alonso’s win gives him a healthy lead in the championship, 20 points clear of Mark Webber in second place. After Hamilton and Vettel failed to finish the race, they are now third and fourth in the standings, with Nico Rosberg close behind in fifth. The Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean are sixth and seventh, followed by Button, Perez and Maldonado.