Alonso snatches exciting victory in European Grand Prix

 

Fernando Alonso grabbed arguably the most stunning victory of his Formula One career on a day of high-drama in the European Grand Prix.

From 11th on the grid a combination of brilliant driving and good fortune enabled Alonso to clinch his 19th F1 win, this in front of his adoring Spanish fans.

Less than 24 hours after another Alonso in Xabi had scored both goals in Spain's 2-0 Euro 2012 quarter-final victory over France, Fernando again had his country dancing with joy.

Alonso was followed home by Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, with Michael Schumacher remarkably on the podium for the first time since he stepped out of retirement two and a half years ago for Mercedes.

It has allowed Ferrari star Alonso to make a decisive move in the championship as he leads by 20 points from Red Bull's Mark Webber as two of his biggest rivals in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both failed to finish.

For once around the normally dull-as-ditchwater Valencia Street Circuit there was more excitement in this one race than in the previous four combined.

Although for 28 laps that was hardly the case for Vettel as the German was in a world of his own, sailing off to what appeared to be a third consecutive victory.

But one bump of the wheels involving Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen and Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne turned the race on its head.

It resulted in a front-left puncture for Kovalainen and a rear-right for Vergne, the latter making a total hash of his return to the pits, leaving debris all over the track.

With rubber and carbon fibre everywhere it forced the safety car into play to allow the stewards to clear.

Unsurprisingly virtually all of the leaders made a second stop at that stage, with the exception of Vettel.

However, with a 20-second cushion over Lotus' Romain Grosjean such was his dominance he had enough time in hand to wait for a lap and still emerge out in front.

When the safety car pitted after 33 laps Vettel again eased away, but just for one and a half laps as he ground to a halt, enduring only a second retirement in his last 29 races.

Attempting to explain, Vettel said: "I lost drive and I had to stop. Why? I don't know.

"There's not much we could have done better, but with reliability we all work on the limit.

"Up to that point we had had a perfect start, perfect pit stop, a perfect race.

"We've made a good step and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the next grand prix (British on July 8)."

For the most part chaos had ensued at various stages over the first half of the race behind Vettel, with positional changes aplenty.

At one point, with Vettel away and clear, sixth to 14th were covered by six seconds and it was akin to watching dodgems as they weaved their way around the track.

But Vergne's misdemeanour changed everything, not least for Hamilton as a furious round of pit stops ensued with the safety car on track.

The team have made countless errors that have cost the 27-year-old this season, and on this occasion a front jack failure added to his woes, although there was worse to come later.

With Vettel out it left Lotus' Romain Grosjean to chase Alonso for the lead, but an alternator issue resulted in his race being run after 40 laps.

That elevated Hamilton into second, but with Raikkonen on his tail as he tyres fell off a cliff in the dying stages.

The Finn eased up to second on lap 55, leaving Hamilton clinging onto a podium as he fought with Williams's Pastor Maldonado.

On the penultimate lap, and as they went wheel to wheel through turns 12 and 13, Maldonado crashed into the side of Hamilton, forcing him out of the race.

It means Hamilton is 23 points behind Alonso, with Vettel 26 down going into the next race at Silverstone in a fortnight.

Behind a joyous Schumacher, Webber grabbed fourth after starting 19th, the Australian followed by Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.

Alonso, who had been forced to stop his car on his warm-down lap although it allowed him to celebrate with the Spanish fans, said: "It's difficult to express in words my feelings.

"This is a special team - Ferrari - with the grandstands full of Spanish flags and the fans in red.

"I'm feeling very proud to be a Spanish sportsman, and this is the best victory I've felt in terms of emotions."

Raikkonen did not feel a win was possible as he said: "In the end second place is okay, but not what we wanted."

As for Schumacher, riddled with wretched luck this year and with just two points to his name prior to today, he was jubilant.

"I didn't actually think about the podium at all," said the 43- year-old seven-times champion.

"I crossed the line at the end and I asked the team where I'd finished, and they said third, a podium.

"That was something I didn't expect. It's these moments you enjoy deeply, a wonderful feeling to be back after such a long time.

"It was pretty exciting, and probably the best way to do it."

Team-mate Nico Rosberg passed Paul di Resta in his Force India on the final lap to finish sixth, with McLaren's Jenson Button eighth, followed by Sauber's Sergio Perez and Maldonado.

The stewards, however, are investigating the Hamilton/Maldonado incident, with the Venezuelan seemingly at fault after coming from off the track to attack the 27-year-old.

PA

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