• European Grand Prix - The Final Stint

Not so bad after all...

Chris Medland and Laurence Edmondson
June 24, 2012
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Mr Ferrari

It came as a surprise when Fernando Alonso revealed on Thursday that he would have a say in the identity his next team-mate at Ferrari. Not only did it imply that Ferrari is already considering Felipe Massa's replacement, it showed just how much power Alonso has in the team. But after his performance on Sunday it became abundantly clear why Ferrari value him so highly and why they are willing to keep him happy. Put simply, Ferrari doesn't deserve to be in the title chase after the mistakes it made with the F2012 at the start of the season, but Alonso's phenomenal driving has put him 20 points clear at the top of the drivers' standings.

Valencia finally delivers

In a shocking turn of events, the Valencia street circuit delivered a thrilling European Grand Prix. Who would have thought it? Not Jenson Button, who on Saturday evening said: "We're in Valencia, not a lot happens here in the race. You can't overtake round here". However, high track temperatures led to more tyre problems than the teams had expected, and a range of strategies from one to three stops meant the ebb and flow in car performance facilitated overtaking. Add in some supreme driving skill - think Grosjean on Hamilton in turn 12 - and some not so supreme skill - think Maldonado on Hamilton in turn 13 - and you got a fantastic race. Fine, Vettel's retirement helped, but this was still one of the best races of the season. Or as Mark Webber put it afterwards: "I think most drivers would put this in their bottom three of circuits in the year, but it turned out to be a reasonable race today". There's no pleasing some people.

The Story of the Weekend

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  • Shock Fernando Alonso - At the start of the weekend it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that Alonso would win, but starting 11th having missed out on Q3 nobody would have given him a chance in Valencia. The Spanish Gods were smiling on him today.
  • Shocker Pastor Maldonado - In an almost opposite situation to Alonso, Maldonado qualified brilliantly but then struggled to match pace for much of the grand prix until the final stint - when he threw away a podium finish by driving in to the side of Hamilton
  • Best overtake Romain Grosjean - With his race being compromised by Hamilton early on, Grosjean made up for a lack of straight-line speed by outbraking the McLaren around the outside of turn 12 and then muscling through on the inside of turn 13
  • Best lap Sebastian Vettel - Take your pick of any of the first 35, but on the second lap Vettel extended his lead from 1.1s to 4.0s and ensured the race was his to win, until a suspected alternator failure robbed him
  • Worst lap Nico Rosberg - At the restart after the safety car period, Rosberg failed to get temperature in to his medium tyres and dropped from sixth place to 12th
  • Drive of the day Fernando Alonso - After a good start, Alonso judged a number of overtaking moves beautifully to run third behind the safety car. Having passed Grosjean and inherited the lead he then showed his experience to judge his pace perfectly to the flag to the delight of his home crowd

2011 all over again

While the race will be remembered as an exciting one, that was only a result of Sebastian Vettel's retirement. There's no hiding from the fact that the Red Bull in Vettel's hands looked as dominant as it ever had last year during the opening 35 laps, with his lead surpassing 20 seconds initially. When Grosjean got through in to second place there were hopes that he could challenge but it took a safety car period to bring Vettel back in range. The pace was a result of a major rear-end update from Adrian Newey, and is ominous for the rest of the field. McLaren is hoping for an upgrade package at Silverstone and will need to find a lot of time to keep Red Bull honest.

Schumacher silences his critics

It took longer than predicted and came when he least expected it, but Michael Schumacher finally returned to the podium in Valencia. His last taste of champagne from a magnum of Mumm came at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, so he was understandable delighted after whetting his whistle alongside Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. It could be argued that he got a bit lucky with the retirements ahead of him, but after his own bad luck this year it was the least he deserved. A stewards' enquiry threatened to crash the party after the race - Schumacher's DRS was seen open under yellow flags - but they rightly ruled that he did not gain an advantage. The hope is that the podium is the first of many, but Mercedes has plenty of work to do in order to start fighting for the top three week-in-week-out.

Absent Glock

Only 23 cars lined up on the grid for the start of the grand prix after Timo Glock had to withdraw due to an intestinal infection. What was thought to just be a dodgy tummy earlier in the week eventually stopped him driving after FP3, but also highlighted a common problem in Formula One. Questions were raised over who could replace Glock if needed, and Marussia's test driver is Maria de Villota. She was present in Valencia but her PR appeal means she is in the role without holding the superlicence required to race in Formula One, and her position is clearly not totally based on her driving ability. There were rumours that at least one team member was unhappy Glock didn't pull out earlier as 2011 driver Jerome d'Ambrosio could have filled in last minute. But ultimately no replacement driver could have been expected to do any better than Charles Pic, who finished 15th.

Time to give tyre warmers the cold shoulder?

The issue of cost saving continues to rear its head at each grand prix weekend and in Valencia it was tyre warmers that came under fire. As the teams and FIA draft new regulations with austerity in mind, it has been suggested that a new generation of tyres could be formulated to operate without tyre blankets. It would save money in freight and general equipment, but the idea has been rejected in the past due to safety concerns. Michael Schumacher was among the naysayers in Valencia: "I think cold tyres are for categories that have low power; maybe Formula Ford or Formula 3. But quite honestly Formula One, being the pinnacle of motorsport and with the power that we have, with the speed that we have ... no, I wouldn't like that idea at all, and I don't see a need or reason to do so." But McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh reckons it makes sense if the tyre compounds are adjusted accordingly: "You can't do it with these tyres, that's for sure, but what was suggested is that if you're going to change the tyre and go out to tender, which is something in prospect for the sport, then having noisy generators on the grid and having all the costs of tyre blankets ... you have to ask if they actually add to the show or if they get in the way of it. Providing that the temperature and the pressure range of the tyres are designed to warm-up, which they do in other formula, then it's clearly possible. We've got ourselves into a particular niche in Formula One where we all spend £300,000 on dragging blankets and generators around to make noise on the grid. We can clear them all out to make more space for VIP guests and media, I guess."

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