Fernando Alonso celebrates his victory in the Grand Prix of Europe. [ Photo courtesy of Press Association]
Alonso Takes Home Win In Spain; Leads Championship
by Mark Gero
VALENCIA, Spain- While his nation celebrated their national soccer team reaching the semi- finals of the European championships the night before, Home hero Fernando Alonso began the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia, Spain Sunday from 11 th position, made his way up the field, and took advantage of the retirements of Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean to win by 6.4 seconds over Kimi Raikkonen and lead the World Formula One driving Championship after eight rounds. After making a comeback in the sport two years ago, Michael Schumacher finally got his reward for all his patience by finishing in third.
"This has been an unforgettable day for me and I can't find the right words to express my feelings!" beamed Alonso about his first home win. "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. It's nice that sport and I'm thinking of the wins for the national football team and Nadal, might be able to give people something to smile about. Stopping on the slowing down lap? I don't know what happened but it came at the right moment, because I was in front of the grandstands and I was able to celebrate with my fans! Sport always delivers the same lessons in that there are highs and lows and things change quickly. Yesterday we didn't make it to Q3 and today we have won: it means that we should never give up, right to the chequered flag. It's a nice present for everyone who has come from far away, maybe even sleeping in their cars and then staying in the grandstands in this torrid heat. At the start, it was not easy to make up places and I tried to delay the braking to the maximum at Turn 4, staying on the outside. Then I started to fight my way up and, after the Safety Car, I began to think a podium could be possible. Then I attacked Grosjean and managed to pass him, although I was worried that I might have sustained some damage when we touched. After two or three corners I realized everything was alright and I relaxed. When I went into the lead after Vettel retired, we were all hoping the tires would last to the end. I was always talking to my engineer who told me I was running the same pace as those following me: in the end, there was not much left, but unlike Canada, the others were in the same situation. It was emotional being on the podium with Andrea Stella, because he has also worked with Michael and Kimi: he could celebrate in the best way possible a totally unexpected win, given our grid position.
But at the start, Vettel was the driver that got off a tremendous start, while Grosjean cut through the inside of the grid and slid into third place. Right at the end of the first lap, Vettel already had a lead of 1.9 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The current world champion increased it to three seconds by lap four, and by the tenth lap, Vettel already had a comfortable lead of ten seconds over Hamilton by the time that Vettel made his first stop on lap 17. The Red Bull driver assumed the lead and now lead over Grosjean, who passed Hamilton on lap 12, pitting and returning in fourth.
But while the front of the grid was staying steady, the middle of it was experiencing pure excitement. Kamui Kobyaschi and Bruno Senna got too close to one another on lap 20, which resulted in a collision, tearing the Sauber driver's wing plate off, but destroying Senna's rear right side tire. Even after repairing the job, Senna was slapped with a drive through penalty.
By this time, Vettel had a 25 second lead over Grosjean. But unfortunately, both drivers would not savor this long.
On lap25, Heikki Kovalainen and Jean-Eric Vergne collided and despite both cars ventured on, debris from both cars were scattered all over the track, and for the only time in the race, the safety car was deployed. All the drivers in the race dived into the pits, and Hamilton suffered the worst of it was one of the jacks broke and Hamilton could do nothing but come out into the race in 6 th . The restart was only a couple of laps later, and Alonso, who was working his way up the grid for most of the race, found himself in second after passing Grosjean.
But on lap 35, Vettel suddenly slowed down and was out of the race. For the German, he still had no idea what went wrong.
"At the moment it's not entirely clear what the problem was". He said. "I lost acceleration, the engine stalled and I couldn't do anything; that was it. You can't change it now. Up until that point it was clear we were strong, I was very happy in the car and had the pace. We were very quick today and it felt good. The initial re-start after the safety car was fine, but we're not sure of the exact problem, we'll need to look into it."
Alonso for the first time took the lead. But Grosjean on lap 41 suffered an overheated alternator and was the next victim in the top two to retire. By lap 45, Alonso had a 3.9 second lead over Hamilton, but was beginning to lose tire grip. But the Spaniard held off Raikkonen, who with two laps to go passed Hamilton, who had no grip at all. Pastor Maldonado now challenged Hamilton for 3 rd with one lap to go, but both the Venezuelan and Hamilton collided, knocking Hamilton out of the race and managed to just take the last point in tenth.
Like Schumacher, who moved up the field most of the race, Mark Webber did the same and finished in fourth, while Nico Hulkenberg took fifth. Another Nico, Nico Rosberg, vanished in the opening laps after qualifying fifth and finished in sixth, while Paul Di Resta finished seventh, Jenson Button eighth and Sauber's Sergio Perez in ninth.
Alonso now leads the championship with a commanding 20 points over Webber with Hamilton in third. But for the Spaniard, considering the huge lead, he believes that he still does not have the fastest car.
"Thinking back to yesterday," he recalled. "What happened confirms there is still a lot of work to be done and we have to be honest about this, to ourselves and to our fans. We will do all we can to win this championship, but we still don't have the quickest car and we must push to reach this objective as quickly as possible."