Ferrari's Fernando Alonso the winner of the 2012 Formula 1 European Grand PrixEnlarge Photo
He finished 6.4 seconds in front of two other former Ferrari F1 champions, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher (more than 12 seconds back), the latter earning his first podium since China in 2006.
Alonso has taken the F2012--a recognized dog of a car at the start of the year--to two victories thus far, becoming the first repeat winner of the 2012 season as he took a healthy lead in the world championship.
"This has been an unforgettable day for me and I can't find the right words to express my feelings," said Alonso, who was clearly emotional on the victory podium. "Winning in my country is an indescribable emotion; I still remember the victory in Barcelona in 2006 and winning today in Valencia with this fantastic team is amazing, especially when we are going through such a difficult time at the moment in Spain."
Raikkonen clearly was trying for the win and said, "Second place is okay but the win is what I really wanted. We didn't quite have the pace for it today," the Iceman said. "We had good race pace again and today was close, but the race win was just out of reach."
Raikkonen and Schumacher on Valencia podium - Lotus F1 team photoEnlarge Photo
It sure didn't look like Alonso's day from the start of the race as reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel had his Red Bull RB8 on rails ahead of fellow champ Lewis Hamilton's McLaren, with Lotus F1 Team's Romain Grosjean nipping at the Briton's heels.
On a track where passing is normally an anomaly there was overtaking throughout the field, particularly after the safety car period that began on the 27th lap after Jean-Eric Vergne's crash with Heikki Kovalainen. All along Alonso had been moving up the grid, eighth on the first lap and when the safety car came out, he grabbed third place from Grosjean.
When Vettel's RB8 stopped on the track due to a suspected alternator issue, it was Alonso's lead to have and to hold and he battled with Grosjean for ownership of first place until the Frenchman stopped, felled by alternator failure as well on the 40th of 57 laps. That left Hamilton in second place--even after another horrid pit stop where the front jack and difficulties installing the left-front tire both kept him way late in the pits.
With horribly degraded tires, Hamilton had to give way and cede second place to a charging Raikkonen with three to go, falling into the clutches of Pastor Maldonado. The duo ran side by side for several corners but finally crashed, with Hamilton's car pitched on its side into the wall, losing about 12 points.
That set the stage for Schumacher and Red Bull's Mark Webber to charge through after their late tire stops, on the 44th and 38th laps respectively. The duo passed Schumi's teammate Nico Rosberg, McLaren's Jenson Button and Sauber's Sergio Perez, with the Force India cars of Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg coming into their clutches. Once Hamilton and Maldonado finished their spats, Schumacher vaulted past the Venezuelan and onto the podium.
Behind Schumacher, Webber was fourth, with Hulkenberg, Rosberg, di Resta, Button, Perez and Bruno Senna, who received a drive-through penalty for a collision with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi. Although Maldonado was originally credited with 10th place, he was penalized for causing a collision with Hamilton and ended the contest with an extra 20 seconds added to his race in 12th.
At the close of the race, Alonso performed two trackside no-no's so it'll be interesting to see what kind of penalty, if any he receives for first picking up a Spanish flag and then failing to go directly to Parc Ferme with his car. The winner stopped before the pits to celebrate with the fans and put the Spanish flag on the track in homage to his country.
The results left Alonso with a healthy 111 points to Webber's 91, Hamilton's 88, Vettel's 85 and Nico Rosberg's 75, with Raikkonen in the mix with 73 points. Red Bull holds the lead in the constructors championship with 176 to McLaren's 137, with Lotus at 126, Ferrari at 122 and Mercedes holding 92 points rounding out the top five.
The F1 troops now head to Silverstone and the 2012 British Grand Prix in two weeks' time, a race that is close to more than 80 percent of the teams' headquarters and is always an exciting contest to watch. Will the weather play a part in this upcoming race? It has a tendency to do so. Will Ferrari continue to improve and allow Alonso to claim his third championship? A bit too early to tell, but it sure is looking solid for the Spaniard and his Ferrari team.