In front of thousands of his adoring home fans, an ecstatic Fernando Alonso drove a flawless race to victory at the European Grand Prix on Sunday. The Ferrari driver had been cautious about his chances the day before, after qualifying a disappointing 11th. But his experience and determination came together amid the chaos on the Valencia street circuit, allowing him to take the checkered flag and regain the lead in the championship standings. The result also makes Alonso the first repeat winner of the 2012 season so far.
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel got off to a good start in his Red Bull, and managed to build up a solid lead in front of second-placed Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. Alonso, meanwhile, overtook the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and managed to slip past Pastor Maldonado’s Williams. He then got the advantage over Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) by staying out a lap longer before ducking into the pits.
Despite emerging in traffic, Alonso battled on through a field of yet-to-stop cars, faring better than many of his rivals in the same situation.
Debris on the track prompted a safety-car period, and much of the field dived into the pits to make their second and final stops. But disaster struck for Hamilton, however, whose pit crew yet again managed to drop the ball, struggling with his front left tire.
That saw Alonso slotted into third place ahead of the restart, and the Ferrari driver quickly disposed of the Lotus of Romain Grosjean, who was in second. Disaster then struck for race leader Vettel, whose car came to a stop on the circuit. Alonso was leading, but was still having to fight off Grosjean. Incredibly, the Swiss driver’s car also ground to a halt 17 laps from the finish, due to an alternator issue.
All Alonso then had to do was keep the car on the track and bring home victory. Behind him, Raikkonen was hot on second-placed Hamilton’s tail, the McLaren’s tires seemingly past their best. The Lotus made it past the Briton, but Pastor Maldonado was not so lucky. The Williams driver was crawling all over the back of Hamilton, who was putting heart and soul into defending his third place. But it was not to be, as the Venezuelan speared into the side of the McLaren with just minutes of the race to go. Hamilton was left on the side of the road, and threw his steering wheel out of the car in anger. Maldonado ended up with a damaged front wing, but managed to place the car 10th.
Raikkonen took second place, while Michael Schumacher finished third, the Mercedes driver finally managing the first podium place of his F1 comeback.
“I cannot put into words the special feeling of winning your home Grand Prix,” Alonso said after the race. “It is unique and special. I had the opportunity in Barcelona in 2006 and did the same here in Valencia. The stands were full of color and Spanish flags and, after the footballers won at Euro 2012, I am feeling very proud to be Spanish at the moment. This is possibly the best victory I have ever had.”
Alonso now leads the championship with eight races out of 20 run, with 111 points. Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who finished fourth on Sunday, is next, with 101 points, while Lewis Hamilton is third on 88 points.
The Spaniard will not have his home fans to give him a boost in two weeks at the British Grand Prix, but he may well manage to pull out some more Alonso magic on the track once more.