Lewis Hamilton crashed out of the Grand Prix of Europe here yesterday, at least 12 precious championship points disappearing at a stroke. Fernando Alonso eventually won the race for Ferrari.
The British driver came under extreme pressure from Pastor Maldonado in the closing laps. The Williams driver ran side by side with Hamilton's McLaren through several corners on the 56th lap of the race, after Hamilton had resisted his overtaking overtures on the run out of the final corner at the end of the 55th. They finally collided, Hamilton's car being pitched into the wall. Both drivers are facing investigation by the stewards.
Maldonado blamed Hamilton squarely for their accident. "He tried to put me off the track," said the Venezuelan. "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. He was struggling too much with the tyres. He was completely lost and at that moment I was getting very good pace. He tried a very aggressive move on me."
However, Hamilton said: "All I remember is sitting in the wall. That's racing, you just have to suck it up. I don't know where I would have finished, but my tyres were gone. On the last lap they suddenly just went. It was almost as if I had flat tyres at the back. We've got a lot of work to do to pick up the pace because we were really struggling today."
The stewards added 20 seconds to Maldonado's race time, dropping him to 12th place.
The grand prix had really begun on its 34th lap which, coincidentally, is when it ended for the runaway early leader, Sebastian Vettel, and set Alonso on course for a sensational triumph. Vettel dominated until his Red Bull rolled to a halt just as the race restarted after a safety car intervention following a collision between Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso and Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham.
When the race restarted on the 34th lap, Vettel immediately resumed control, until his alternator failed. "It switched off," Vettel said. "The safety car was obviously not ideal for us. It's shit."
The Lotus driver Romain Grosjean should have taken the lead, but Alonso scented victory. "I was very aggressive," the Spaniard said. "I was fighting at the start with Button and we nearly touched. When I passed Grosjean we did touch and I spent a couple of laps worrying that there had been some damage. But it was all OK."
He was third by the time the safety car came out, but after shouldering past Grosjean he inherited the lead. The Frenchman kept pushing, but just as a great battle came into prospect he also stopped, on the 40th lap, also with alternator failure.
That left Hamilton in second place. He had been delayed after yet another McLaren pit-stop disaster, this time fitting the left front wheel. Now he was fending off a hungry Kimi Raikkonen, who had been blocked by Maldonado at the start and then spent the afternoon recovering the ground he had lost.
He and Hamilton ran side by side for a few corners before the Finn finally got ahead with three laps to go. The McLaren's tyres were finished, but the delay getting past had used up Raikkonen's chances of challenging Alonso's Ferrari. "Second place is OK, but of course not what we wanted," the Finn said.
The incident between Hamilton and Maldonado set the scene for Michael Schumacher's return to the podium for the first time since his comeback to the sport. He and Red Bull's Mark Webber had made late tyres stops, on the 44th and 38th laps respectively, and running nose to tail they dispensed with Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, then the Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, before the demise of Hamilton and Maldonado elevated them to third and fourth places respectively.
The veteran German racer was so excited that he continued speaking in English when the time came to use his native language in the post-race conference. The last 43-year-old to take a podium place was Sir Jack Brabham, at Brands Hatch in 1970.
"I didn't actually think about a podium," the Mercedes driver admitted. "It was only when I was crossing line that I asked my guys where did I finish. I'd seen Mark's pitboard one time and it said eighth so knew I was one place ahead, but when they said third I couldn't believe it! This is a moment to enjoy deeply. It's a wonderful feeling to be back after so much time." He was investigated by the stewards for allegedly failing to slow for yellow flags, but no action was taken.
For Alonso it was a racer's triumph. "It's really difficult express the feelings, winning your home grand prix is something unique," he said.
"The grandstands were full of red colour and Spanish flags. I am feeling very proud to be a Spanish sportsman at the moment, and this is the best victory I have felt in terms of pure emotions."
Valencia details and standings
FIA Formula 1 European Grand Prix, Valencia, Spain (57 laps)
1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1hr 44min 16.649sec
2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:44:23.070
3 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:44:29.288
4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:44:30.277
5 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:44:36.642
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:44:37.825
7 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:44:39.515
8 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:44:41.302
9 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:44:44.426
10 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:44:51.279
11 B Senna (Br) Williams 1:44:52.610
12 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:44:53.690
13 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:45:32.520
14 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:45:51.303
15 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 1:45:53.200
16 F Massa (Br) Ferrari at 1 Lap
17 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 at 1 Lap
18 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 at 1 Lap
19 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren at 2 Laps
Not Classified: 20 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 40 laps completed, 21 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 33 laps completed, 22 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 33 laps completed, 23 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 26 laps completed. Note: T Glock (Ger) Marussia did not start the race due to illness.
Drivers Championship Standings: 1 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 111pts, 2 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 91, 3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 88, 4 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 85, 5 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 75, 6 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 73, 7 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 53, 8 J Button (GB) McLaren 49, 9 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 39, 10 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 30, 11 P di Resta (GB) Force India 27, 12 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 21, 13 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 17, 14 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 17, 15 B Senna (Br) Williams 15, 16 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 11, 17 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 4, 18 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2, 19 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 0, 20 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 0, 21 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 0, 22 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 0, 23 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 0, 24 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 0.
Manufacturers Championship Standings: 1 Red Bull 176pts, 2 McLaren 137, 3 Lotus F1 Team 126, 4 Ferrari 122, 5 Mercedes GP 92, 6 Sauber-Ferrari 60, 7 Williams 45, 8 Force India 44, 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 6, 10 Caterham 0, 11 Marussia 0, 12 HRT-F1 0.