Alonso’s greatest victory
Fernando Alonso has produced some remarkable performances throughout his career but few can match the spectacle and excitement of last Sunday’s triumph in Valencia. The double World Champion thrilled his patriotic home crowd with an inspiring charge from 11th on the grid to earn a genuine fighting victory.
Alonso has driven beautifully on many occasions for Ferrari as well as Renault and McLaren in the past. Whilst some of those drives were technically equal to what he achieved in Valencia, the unexpected sense of occasion and the passionate emotion made the 2012 European Grand Prix Fernando’s finest hour.
Alonso enjoyed some luck on his way to victory in Valencia but legitimately drove himself into contention for the win. If the top two cars on the grid hit trouble the advantage does not fall to the driver who started 11th.
Fernando made the most of his Ferrari’s relative grip on fresh tyres and drove with controlled aggression on the first lap to move from 11th into 8th. He then overtook Nico Hulkenberg, and jumped Kamui Kobayashi, Kimi Raikkonen, and Pastor Maldonado with two super quick in-laps when his rivals pitted for tyres. After the first round of stops Fernando’s charge continued with overtaking manoeuvres on Mark Webber, Bruno Senna, and Paul Di Resta. By the time Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel hit trouble, Alonso was fighting Romain Grosjean for the race lead, and it was a battle that he won.
His stunning charge in an average car was nothing short of incredible. Felipe Massa is a good measure of a car’s true potential. When the Ferraris are quick Felipe can win races from pole position but when they are rubbish he is absolutely nowhere. In Valencia, Massa’s best lap was eight tenths behind Alonso’s despite having much fresher tyres in the late faster stages of the Grand Prix. Alonso clearly outperformed his car to score a fighting win from the midfield and did so on a circuit where overtaking has been traditionally difficult.
To achieve all that in front of his home crowd gave the victory more theatre than any regular race win. Alonso burst into tears on the warm down lap, and again on the podium, in a display of emotion the Spaniard has never shown before. Perhaps deep down, Fernando Alonso knew that Valencia 2012 would be remembered as greatest Grand Prix victory.
Maldonado’s lack of class
Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado reignited tensions with another controversial collision in the late stages of the European Grand Prix. Maldonado tried an ambitious overtaking manoeuvre around the outside of Turn 12 but the Williams driver was squeezed wide and tagged the side of Hamilton’s McLaren as they veered left for Turn 13.
Pastor was quick to blame Lewis for the collision saying “He tried to put me off the track. He didn’t leave any room for me to stay on and do the corner side by side. I jumped over the kerb and I couldn’t avoid the accident. I don’t know why he drove like that.”
Maldonado’s unsporting history of maliciously throwing his car at others, and his inability to acknowledge any wrongdoing, leaves his words with little weight. He has proven himself to be a racer lacking in class and this could be chalked up as a further example of his immaturity.
Lewis Hamilton pushed Maldonado wide through Turn 12 in an aggressive move from the racing line, but not one that was unexpected. Maldonado’s reaction was not to back off, but to keep his foot on it and drill the McLaren when he rejoined the circuit. Tellingly, the two drivers made long and continuous contact through the corner given the speed and the angle from which Maldonado was attacking Turn 13. The definitive bump that flipped Lewis into the wall occurred once Maldonado had more than a car’s width of racetrack to spare and this places the blame firmly at his doorstep.
Quite simply, in the late stages of an exciting Grand Prix Maldonado lost his head and succumbed to the red mist. He has done this before and will do so again but will find his tainted history casts an even bigger shadow over his future.
Consistently inconsistent stewards
The FIA stewards were busy in Valencia, and whilst their decisions were free of any major controversy, they did raise a few interesting observations.
One of those comes thanks to the drive-through penalty handed to Bruno Senna. The Brazilian was penalised for cutting across Kamui Kobayashi and making contact with the Sauber. This was a tough call for the stewards but they could argue their decision was technically correct since part of Kobayashi’s car was alongside Senna when the Williams moved right towards the wall.
However, given that most of the risk in this manoeuvre was Kobayashi’s, and that he never got far alongside Senna before trying to back out of the pass, this incident might have been better investigated after the race. To many observers it was a simple racing incident with no malice – exactly the sort of contact the FIA stewards have left unpunished in the past. Investigating the incident once the race was finished would have given the stewards more time to deliberate and would have given Senna a reasonable chance to defend himself.
The penalty might have been technically correct but perhaps it was unfair.
The contrasts beautifully with another interesting decision the stewards made. On the final lap of the Grand Prix Michael Schumacher has his DRS open in a yellow flag zone but escaped penalty for his infringement. The stewards let Michael off the hook because he quickly realised his error and backed off to such an extent that he set notably slower sector times than the other cars around him. The stewards also acknowledged the yellow flags were hard to see at the time. Schumacher had not driven dangerously, or gained any advantage, so common sense prevailed in the steward’s office.
However, you have to draw a line in the sand and Michael broke the rules. The stewards have never been lenient on yellow flag infringements before, and have certainly never accepted them being difficult to see as an excuse. A yellow flag is a yellow flag if it’s hard to see or not.
In this case the stewards made a decision that was fair but technically incorrect.