Already a living legend in sporting circles, Fernando Alonso took another step into history books this afternoon, with his 33rd career victory in front of a fanatical and adoring home crowd.
Over 120,000 people packed into the Circuit De Catalunya to watch their hero do battle with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in a race that may prove decisive in the destiny of the 2013 World Championship.
Alonso launched himself from 5th on the grid to run 3rd by the end of the first lap, after a nail-biting clash with Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton through turn three. The British driver had an awful race as he slumped from 2nd on the grid to 12th by the chequered flag. The first lap was not only a disaster for Hamilton – Jenson Button narrowly avoided an accident with Mark Webber, which dropped him from 14th to 17th, leaving the 2009 Spanish GP winner with a mountain to climb, relative to team-mate Sergio Perez, who started 8th thanks to Felipe Massa’s penalty for blocking Webber during qualifying.
Rosberg led the lion’s share of the opening stint, with Vettel hanging on the rear wing of the Mercedes, but mystifyingly unable to effect the move for the lead. His failure to make the pass stick cost him dear when the first pitstops took place, with Alonso placing himself between the Mercedes and the Red Bull. The Ferrari made short work of Rosberg, with the German soon falling behind Vettel and Raikkonen as well.
Nico Hulkenberg had less of an easy ride: the Sauber driver handed a ten second stop and go penalty after colliding with the rear of Jean Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso in the pitlane; Vergne later suffered a catastrophic tyre delamination that damaged his floor so badly he was forced to retire.
As Mercedes plunged down the order, McLaren slowly made progress in their seemingly never-ending battle with the unpredictable and unwieldy MP4/28, with Perez and Button running 8th and 9th when the race reached its conclusion, despite a challenging and difficult weekend’s work.
Raikkonen’s efforts to play his tyre wear ace card failed, the Finn unable to make headway into Alonso’s lead and even coming under pressure from Felipe Massa in the dying laps, the Brazilian having outwitted Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. The World Champion was forced into a 4-stop strategy when his tyres began to suffer in the same manner as many of his rivals.
Paul Di Resta enjoyed a quiet but productive afternoon to finish 7th behind Rosberg, but team-mate Adrian Sutil was thwarted in his efforts -yet again- by a slow first pit stop. Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten for Toro Rosso.
“Even if this is the third time I’ve won a home race, the emotion is still very strong, as if it had never happened before.” beamed an ecstatic Alonso post-race.
“It’s nice to be able to give the whole of Spain this win, especially at a time when the country is in crisis and, for many people, it’s not possible to come here to show their support. I thank everyone for that support and the team for doing a fantastic job.”
“Right to the very end, I thought it might be possible to fight with Kimi, but when I fitted my last set of Hard tyres, the ones we thought would be best as they were new, I had oversteer and began to lose the rear much earlier than I had expected.” reflected Felipe Massa, who nonetheless secured his first podium of the season.
Despite a solid drive to his 4th podium finish in 5 races, Kimi Raikkonen was characteristically subdued:
“Unfortunately it’s second place again so it’s not time to celebrate too much. The car felt good and we did pretty much all we could today, but we didn’t have the pace to challenge Fernando [Alonso]. I drove to the maximum and it’s good for the championship that Sebastian finished behind us.”
Mercedes were left to ponder exactly how a front row lockout in qualifying could translate to a disastrous showing in the race.
“We endured a very difficult afternoon and the comparison between our competitiveness in qualifying and in the race was particularly disappointing.” said Team Principal Ross Brawn.
“Nico did an excellent job managing the tyres to make just three stops and his level of performance showed what our car is currently capable of on tracks like this. Lewis didn’t have a good balance at any point and that simply made a critical situation worse, which forced him to convert to a four-stop strategy midway through the race. We must find the key to why we are losing performance on Sunday afternoon and find the right solutions to improve.”