Spanish GP - Sunday - Race Report
Fernando's Fabulous Fans
Fernando Alonso thrilled the fans by winning his home Grand Prix of Spain in his Ferrari.
"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," Alonso said. "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 bring their support. I thank everyone for that support and the team for doing a fantastic job."
The official crowd figure on race day was 94,831. Because of the financial crises in Spain many local fans could not afford to buy tickets, and therefore 75 percent of the crowd came from outside of Spain. But everybody seemed happy to cheer Alonso and Ferrari on as well as his teammate Felipe Massa.
Kimi Raikkonen, who now has 22 consecutive finishes in the points in his Lotus, was the only guy who maybe could have mounted a challenge against Alonso but he came home second.
Red Bull's duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber took fourth and fifth and pole sitter Nico Rosberg wound up sixth in his Mercedes.
As in Bahrain, Rosberg and Mercedes were very quick in qualifying and grabbed the pole. His teammate Lewis Hamilton gridded alongside him. Vettel started third, Raikkonen fourth and Alonso fifth.
Since 1996 every race winner of the Spanish Grand Prix has started from the front row of the grid. Alonso was about to break that streak. He always makes fabulous starts, and he did so again in his home race.
"We knew that to win the race we needed to pass people at the start," he said. "The start was very good but then it was very narrow and we didn't have the space to move a little bit. So I wait for a better opportunity. It came straight after turn one. I saw Kimi and Lewis running a little bit wide in turn one so I changed trajectory and I had a clean exit in turn two. I passed Kimi and I said 'why not also Hamilton?' I had a little bit of KERS that I saved from the start for turn three, so I used that to pass Hamilton. That was a lot in the race."
Rosberg led the first 10 laps with a string of cars lined up behind his slow Mercedes that could not match its qualifying form. When Rosberg pitted for tires, Esteban Gutierrez headed the pack on laps 11 and 12 and led a F1 race for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, Alonso had jumped Vettel during the pit stops and then passed Rosberg on the track. And when Gutierrez pitted, Alonso took the lead on lap 13 and held it until his second stop on lap 21.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was fading back as was Hamilton.
"I had a very tough race this afternoon," Rosberg said. "The start was good and I managed my first stint well to keep some of the quicker cars behind me. From there, I had to drive my own race and we began to go backwards as it made no sense to destroy my tires by trying to stay ahead. We didn't have the pace of the quickest cars today and there's a growing gap to three teams ahead of us which we need to get on top of. We have a very quick car but we have to make it work for us in the race."
Hamilton was even more perplexed than Rosberg why the Mercedes is so slow in the races.
"A difficult afternoon today and going backwards is never fun," Hamilton said. "We switched to a four-stop strategy during the race but I suffered with a lack of grip and balance throughout and we were never really able to get the tires working. I know that everyone at the team is working so hard and we need to keep positive. I'm sure we will figure the problem out."
Vettel led laps 22 and 23. The Red Bull is a fast car but it chews up its tires.
"Today we just didn't have the tires to fight with the guys in front," Vettel said after crossing the line in fourth. "The start was not too bad and the begging of the race too, we tried to hold on to the 3-stops strategy for too long, we had to admit we couldn't do it, so we ended up doing four stops. We need not more pace but more to do to look after the tires. Our car is quick enough to match Ferrari and Lotus any day, but if you talk about a race distance on these tires, it's a different game. The car is quick enough but we probably do something to the tires that makes the tires degrade quickly."
Alonso took over first place on lap 24 when Vettel pitted and held it until his third stop on lap 36. Raikkonen then led laps 37 and 38. But Alonso, on fresher tires - Raikkonen was on a three stop strategy and Alonso a four - passed Raikkonen on lap 39 and held the lead for the rest of the 66 lap race.
"Unfortunately it's second place again so it's not time to celebrate too much," Raikkonen said. "The car felt good and we did pretty much all we could today, but we didn't have the pace to challenge Fernando. I drove to the maximum and it's good for the championship that Sebastian finished behind us. It's nice to be on the podium for me and the team. Let's see what we can do in Monaco."
Massa started ninth (he qualified sixth but got a three-place grid penalty for impeding Webber in qualifying) and drove well to finish third to claim his first podium.
"When you start from far back everything's more complicated," Massa said, "but I managed to get away well and I immediately had a fantastic pace. On the first lap I pulled off a few overtaking moves thanks to the car being very competitive, which meant I could be aggressive, while at the same time looking after the tires. Right to the very end, I thought it might be possible to fight with Kimi, but when I fitted my last set of Hard tires, 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. All the same, I am very pleased with our performance at this track."
Webber started seventh but had a clutch problem at the start and was 12th after the first lap. The team pulled him into the pits earlier for tires and as he was out of pit sequence with those cars around him he was able to work his way up to fifth.
"We were struggling for the range and a bit of pace today," Webber said. "The Ferraris and the Lotus were in a bit of a different league and that made it hard for us to compete today. I think we got the most out of what we had, particularly as by the first corner I was probably 14th or 15th, so to come back with that result was pretty good. We managed to get back in to the scheme of things, but we were always a little bit on the back foot in terms of tire wear and ultimately pace. If you don't have the pace, then you can't have the magic strategy. I was happy with how I drove and we got some points, but it wasn't the result we wanted."
Paul di Resta's Force India was the quickest of the group not in a Lotus, Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull, and he claimed seventh place.
"Towards the end I was even fighting for sixth," he said. "So we can take a lot of positives from the weekend because this is a track that has traditionally not suited our car. It was a great effort by the team to get through to Q3 yesterday and come away with a seventh place today. The result shows the consistency that we have had since the start of the year and that we can perform each weekend. There's more to come too, because there is more we can do to optimize the car with the new parts we introduced here, but this is definitely a big result for us."
McLaren has been struggling with its uncompetitive car, so the team was happy that Jenson Button and Sergio Perez came home in the points in eighth and ninth, but of course unhappy to be so far away from the leaders.
"The lap to the grid was very slow, which hurt us, and my start wasn't great," Button said. "I had no grip, so Turn One was a mess. I was unlucky to end up 17th at the end of lap one. We took the same approach as in China, adopting a different strategy from the others. To finish eighth show what a good job the team did with the strategy. I don't know whether we've improved our package or not, but we certainly beat some cars that we possibly shouldn't have beaten. Still, it's a positive that both cars finished in the points, and hopefully this'll be the start of an upward trend. We gathered a lot of useful information today, and we'll be working on that over the next few races in order to continue developing MP4-28."
By finishing ahead of Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso managed to cut down his points lead in the championship. The next race on the calendar is Monaco.
"I'm confident for Monte Carlo," Alonso said. "Looking at the last three years, even when we were not competitive in Monte Carlo, we always managed to be on the podium, more or less, in a consistent way so that's the aim for this year as well.
"We had a problem (this year) in Malaysia (with my) the retirement, the problem with the rear wing in Bahrain and we lost some of the consistency that we need to fight for the championship. In the three trouble-free races we've had this year we finished second in Australia, we won in China and in Spain, so what we want to do is put together four or five consistent races with no problems and try to get some podiums in our pocket and score some good points. I think in Monaco we can continue this trend.
"I remember in 2011 we were lapped here by the McLarens and Red Bull and we arrived in Monaco and we nearly won the race, we finished second behind Sebastian (Vettel) with a red flag on the last lap. We were fighting for victory so I don't see any reason - with this car which is also competitive everywhere - not to fight for top positions in Monaco. Let's hope so."
His fans hope so as well.