Valencia GPR Recap: Alonso wins dramatic race, Raikkonen & Schumacher podium

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Fernando Alonso won a dramatic 2012 European Grand Prix which pole sitter Sebastian Vettel looked ready to dominate until his Red Bull expired just after a Safety Car restart. Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen came together at nearly halfway, the Frenchman coming over on the Finn, then spewing rubber and debris across the track as he attempted to quickly regain the pits. On the restart, Alonso stole second from Romain Grosjean in a daring move. The typically boring Valencia track held many surprises this weekend, as the laps were filled with pushing and shoving, closing gaps, and a podium filled with world champions. Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher finished second and third, with the German moving up after Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado took each other out in a fight over second. The Venezuelan still finished in the final points position despite a missing front wing, but Hamilton ended the race in the barriers. Grosjean looked to be doing well in a racy second position, harrying Alonso, but his car also expired in the latter stages of the race.

Vettel began the race from the pole position, posting the most dominant time (1:38.086) of a weekend marked by extraordinarily close lap times. The German’s single Q3 lap was three tenths faster than Hamilton’s, leaving the Briton to start second. Maldonado and Grosjean, who both held provisional pole in the waning moments of Saturday’s qualifying, populated the second row on the grid. Qualifying was a story of who was knocked out when, with Webber out in Q1 due to DRS hydraulic issues, and Alonso and Schumacher out in Q2 sue to bad strategy, a quickly improving track, and traffic. Raikkonen and Rosberg started on the third row, with Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Button, and Di Resta completing the first five starting rows.

All three practice sessions were marked mainly by similar lap times from a good portion of the field. The top nine times were covered by less than two tenths of a second in the first practice, top fifteen fastest times by less than a second on Friday afternoon, and the top thirteen by less than a second in the final practice. Maldonado (1:40.890) led Friday morning’s practice, over Vettel, Webber, Button, and Alonso, with Vettel (1:39.334) top in the afternoon, as Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Schumacher, and Senna completed that session’s fastest five. Finally, Button (1:39.562) led at the end of the Saturday session, as Grosjean, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, and Di Resta were the fastest five. Only de la Rosa damaged his car in an incident despite the less than grippy conditions on Friday, though Glock did not participate in qualifying due to a stomach issue that had plagued him all weekend. He had been cleared by the stewards to race, but Marussia announced Sunday morning that he would not do so, nor would he be replaced.

Race Start:
Sunday in Valencia was as hot as usual, with the sun beating down onto the circuit and a breeze. Some of the drivers out of the top ten started on the soft and others on the medium, with Webber, Schumacher, Perez, Pic, and Vergne all choosing the harder compound. As the lights went out, Vettel shot out into the lead. Hamilton moved Maldonado over, leaving room for Grosjean to push his way through on the Venezuelan even as he fought with teammate Raikkonen. The Finn lost a position, but it was Alonso who had a brilliant start, moving up to eighth. Schumacher had an equally poor start, dropping down into a fight with Massa, only to be outdueled by his former teammate and dropping back to twelfth. By the end of L1, Vettel had nearly two seconds on Hamilton, who had been coming under attack from Grosjean in third. Kobayashi, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Di Resta, and Massa completed the top ten. Button sat thirteenth, Webber seventeenth. At the front, Vettel continued to fly away, gaining another two seconds on the second lap. Behind him, Raikkonen had a serious look at passing Maldonado, got shoved off the racing line and onto the dirty part of the track, but still nearly managed to pass the Venezuelan.

Most of the field ran close together as the DRS option was enabled. Hamilton had a train of cars right behind him, led by an attacking Grosjean, as Vettel continued to speed away in the lead. Still, the Valencia layout held true to tradition and allowed little passing, even with the closeness of the cars and the use of DRS. At the end of the fifth lap, Vettel had more than seven and a half seconds on Hamilton, with just over ten seconds covering the space between Hamilton and teammate Button down in thirteenth. Massa made some excitement, attempting to push his way through on Di Resta. Force India, meanwhile, had warned Di Resta that his brake caliper temperatures were too high. Button had also managed a pass on Schumacher, sliding through on the soft tyres while the German used the medium compound. There was some fighting going on, as Pic attempted to pass Karthikeyan, only to lose a bit off his front wing.

End L10:
As the tenth lap began, Hamilton continued to lose time to Vettel and hold up an increasingly twitchy Grosjean in third. The Frenchman had been able to match Vettel’s fantastic pace, but could not get around the Briton, claiming understeer issues. Still, he managed to get beside him in the DRS zone, pushing through around the outside of Turn 12, holding the inside line and then the position through Turn 13. Vettel led Grosjean by more than eleven seconds at the end of L10, with Kobayashi, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Di Resta, and Massa the top ten. Button and Perez made their first stops on that lap as well.

Pit Stops Begin (L12):
Massa made his first stop from tenth on L12, as did Pic in last place. Raikkonen attempted a similar move on Maldonado as Grosjean did on Hamilton, but was unable to quite pull it off. However, Alonso moved up to seventh with an over-under on Turn 12 and 13 on Hulkenberg as Raikkonen had been unable to do. Though Grosjean had soon set off and gained almost three seconds on Hamilton, he remained thirteen seconds behind Vettel. Raikkonen finally passed Maldonado, squeezing through cleanly. Hamilton pitted on L14, with a clean stop from McLaren, rejoining in twelfth. Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Maldonado, and Hulkenberg all pitted on L16, with Lotus managing to get Raikkonen out ahead of Kobayashi. Hamilton did get around Senna whilst of fresher tyres, then dispatched Schumacher. Alonso and Ferrari put together a quick in lap and stop after he passed Maldonado, allowing the Spaniard to get out ahead of Raikkonen.

Vettel remained on track and well ahead of everyone else, finally pitting on L16 from a 15.2s lead. Grosjean followed him in. Vettel maintained a thirteen second lead, with Di Resta and Rosberg moving up by not pitting. Schumacher was sixth by not stopping, finally succumbing to Alonso after a fight, after holing up a large train of cars.  At the end of L19, Schumacher and Webber finally pitted after spending the end of that lap in a massive, milling queue of cars. On L20, Kobayashi and Senna got together as the Japanese driver attempted to shove his way through as Raikkonen had done moments before. They got together, with Kobayashi’s front wing flying dramatically in the air and Senna spinning broadside in front of a number of cars. He collected himself, barely managed to not take out his teammate, and made his way back around to pit, as did Kobayashi.

At the end of L21, Vettel led Grosjean by very nearly twenty seconds, with Hamilton, Di Resta, Alonso, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Massa, Hulkenberg, and Button the top ten. Only Di Resta had yet to stop and he soon succumbed to Alonso. Soon, word came that the Kobayashi/Senna incident was under investigation from the stewards, with Senna receiving a driver through penalty for causing the collision. Di Resta made his first pit stop on L24, after getting passed by Raikkonen. Perez and Petrov pitted for their second stops on L26, approaching halfway, as the top seven began spreading out. Button stopped on L27. Massa did the same on L28.

Safety Car (L29)/Halfway (End L29):
Near halfway, Vergne looked to pass Kovalainen but came back over on his and tapped him on the straight. The Finn had a left front puncture, Vergne a right rear, spewing rubber and debris all over the track as he attempting to quickly regain the pits. The incident would be investigated after the race. Grosjean, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Maldonado, and Hulkenberg all dove into the pits. Lotus appeared unready for Grosjean, but McLaren had a truly terrible stop. The front jack seemed unable to keep the car up, leading to an issue on the left front. Radio transmissions indicated that Hamilton would not be stopping again. The SC did not immediately pick up Vettel, who had to stop on the next time around. SC picked up Vettel as L30 began, with most of the second stops having shaken out. Vettel led Grosjean, Alonso, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Rosberg, Schumacher, Webber, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Kobayashi, Massa, Button, Perez, Petrov, de la Rosa, Pic, Kovalainen, Senna, and Karthikeyan. Ricciardo had stopped only once, but still had to stop again to change tyre compounds. On L32, the lapped cars were allowed to shuffle through, putting Grosjean directly behind Vettel and leaving the leaders traffic free on the restart.

Restart (L34):
On the restart, Vettel had a tiny lockup, but it was Alonso looking racy, going to the outside of Grosjean into the first turn and taking second in a brilliant move. Further back and later in the lap, Kobayashi and Massa got together. Massa got a right front puncture and had to slowly get back to the pits. Meanwhile, Vettel slowed dramatically, pulling to the side of the track at Turn 17, leaving the lead to Alonso in Spain. Hamilton passed Ricciardo, who was struggling on older tyres. Raikkonen also looked to pass, but may have done so under the yellow flags for marshals pushing Vettel’s car down the track. Meanwhile, Grosjean continued to push Alonso hard for the lead, with Hamilton, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo the top five at the end of L36. Schumacher, Webber, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, and Di Resta completed the top ten. Though Kobyashi had retired, the incident with Massa was under investigation. Also under investigation was Hamilton, for passing under yellow.

Schumacher moved up to fifth around Ricciardo. Webber next came under attack as Ricciardo pitted from directly in front of him. Maldonado passed the Australian with a shove, leaving him open to attack from Hulkenberg and Di Resta. At the front, Alonso set a race fast lap, but Grosjean had not lost any of his own pace and remained less than a second behind the Spaniard. Meanwhile, Webber pitted on L39. Meanwhile, Karthikeyan received a drive through for speeding in the pit lane. Soon, Alonso gained enough of a gap to save him from a DRS attack, with Hamilton another two seconds behind Grosjean, under attack from Raikkonen.

On L41, more drama occurred as Grosjean pulled to the side of the track searching for an escape road, claiming an alternator issue on the radio. Schumacher pitted as the Frenchman searched for marshals to pull his Lotus off the track. Going into the final turn, Perez passed Button to move up to seventh. Alonso led Hamilton, Raikkonen, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Perez, Button, Rosberg, Petrov, Schumacher, Webber, Ricciardo, Senna, Kovalainen, de la Rosa, Pic, Massa, and Karthikeyan with fifteen laps to go. Only Webber, harrying Schumacher for eleventh, was within a second of the driver ahead. A lap later, Raikkonen had gained nearly a second on Hamilton. Soon Schumacher passed Petrov for tenth, with Webber following the German through and taking away hope of points for Caterham. Rosberg pitted on L47 for his second stop.

10 Laps Remaining:
Alonso led Hamilton by just over four seconds with ten laps remaining, as Raikkonen continued to push Hamilton. Maldonado, Hulkenberg, and Di Resta were all fairly well spread out, but Perez was just over a half second behind the Scot. Button, Schumacher, and Webber rounded out the points scorers. Petrov pitted without a front wing, having come into contact with Ricciardo. The two had been fighting over position, and Petrov had contact with the Australian, bouncing him sideways. Meanwhile, word came from race control that Hamilton would receive no penalty but Kobayashi would drop five grid places from qualifying for the next race at Silverstone. As the laps continued to tick away, Schumacher made an over-under maneuver on Button, leaving room for Webber to take position from the Briton as well. At the front, Alonso’s lead held steady, but Raikkonen had dropped back from Hamilton slightly. Rosberg was on a charge in eleventh, but seemed rather too far back to take the final point from Button, unless Button’s pace dropped dramatically.

Meanwhile, there would be no action regarding the Petrov/Ricciardo incident. Alonso’s lead had begun to diminish slightly, with Raikkonen back within a second of Hamilton. With five to go, Schumacher and Webber looked to be on a charge, taking position from Perez and getting very close to Di Resta in sixth. Maldonado and Hulkenberg appeared possibly safe in fourth and fifth. Further back, Petrov passed Massa for sixteenth, both having fallen back after contact despite spending parts of the race in the points. Massa pitted on L55. Meanwhile, Schumacher then Webber got around Di Resta. Hamilton locked up massively with two to go, allowing Raikkonen to close. Through the DRS, Raikkonen got alongside Hamilton, only to have the Briton defend brilliantly and keep the Finn behind. Raikkonen refused to let up, taking second coming out of the hairpin. Out of the final turn, Hamilton went a bit wide, leaving room for Maldonado to get alongside him twice, but remained unable to pass.

Maldonado was very close, with both drivers pushing each other wide. Hamilton pushed the Venezuelan off the track and when Maldonado rejoined, attempting to avoid some sleeping policemen, he ran into the side of Hamilton’s McLaren and pushed him into the barriers. Maldonado also lost his front wing, leaving room for Schumacher to come through and take the final podium position on the last lap. The Venezuelan ended the race in the final points paying position. In the end, Alonso took his second win of the season, as the podium held multiple world champions.

Final Positions, 2012 European Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamGapPit
1. Fernando AlonsoFerrari2
2. Kimi RaikkonenLotus6.42
3. Michael SchumacherMercedes12.62
4. Mark WebberRed Bull13.62
5. Nico HulkenbergForce India19.92
6. Nico RosbergMercedes21.12
7. Paul Di RestaForce India22.81
8. Jenson ButtonMcLaren24.62
9. Sergio PerezSauber27.72
10. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams34.62
11. Bruno SennaWilliams35.92
12. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso37.02
13. Vitaly PetrovCaterham75.84
14. Heikki KovalainenCaterham94.62
15. Charles PicMarussia96.52
16. Felipe MassaFerrari1 Lap4
17. Pedro de la RosaHRT1 Lap2
18. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1 Lap3
 Lewis HamiltonMcLaren2 Laps2
 Romain GrosjeanLotus17 Laps2
 Sebastian VettelRed Bull24 Laps2
 Kamui KobayashiSauber24 Laps3
 Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso31 Laps2
 Timo GlockMarussiadid notstart
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