Hometown Hero Fernando Alonso Wins Spanish GP; Ferrari and Lotus Shut Red Bull out of Podium
It was an exciting day of racing in Barcelona as Fernando Alonso, the sole Spaniard racing in Formula 1, crossed the finish line in first place to take a well-deserved hometown victory. He had built a commanding lead by the time the last dozen laps began, to the point that second place finisher Kimi Räikkönen knew that chasing him down would prove to be futile. While Felipe Massa started the race in a penalized ninth place for blocking Mark Webber in qualifying, he finished the race in third; this shut Red Bull out of the podium as the two Ferraris and the Lotus racked up hefty Constructors’ points.
Pre-race coverage was dominated by the story of the day at the Grand Prix: Fernando Alonso would be trying his hardest to bring home a Spanish victory on his home turf. Alonso won the Spanish GP in 2006, the first Spaniard to do so, and hasn’t taken first in Barcelona since.
Otherwise, Mercedes’ difficulty with tires would again play an important role in the race, as the force loading in turns had so far not proven to be enough to push the cambered wheels vertically in the corners. Therefore, tire degradation on the inside of the tires would be more pronounced on those cars than in others. The tires on all cars would be affected negatively due to several tough turns at the Circuit de Catalunya, most noticeably the huge, right hand sweeper of Turn 3. Tires chosen for the race were the red super soft tires and the white mediums.
A thrilling race start saw Nico Rosberg struggling to fight off Vettel and Alonso, who had both quickly rocketed to the front of the pack as Lewis Hamilton fell swiftly behind. Hamilton didn’t give up easily, as a brief tussle with Alonso nearly took the Ferrari off the track. By as early as Lap 4, Rosberg, who had started the race in pole position, was already noticing tire wear. Mark Webber was the first to pit in Lap 8.
The next lap would see the first retirement of the Spanish GP. Romain Grosjean of Lotus limped to pit lane due to a suspension failure that seemed to catch everyone at Louts by surprise, according to post-race reports. A few laps later, Pastor Maldonado was given a drive-through penalty for breaking the speed limit in the pit lane.
By Lap 13, Alonso had overtaken Rosberg, who was valiantly still hanging in there at the front, and both were followed closely by Vettel. Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutiérrez of Sauber both found themselves happily in the front half of the pack (Ricciardo would make up for his disappointing 16th place finish in Bahrain by earning a point and ending in 10th).
Lap 22 would see the race’s second retirement with Giedo van der Garde. The Caterham driver lost a wheel and wobbled back to the pits sans rear left tire. Later it was revealed that Caterham had sent van der Garde out with a loose wheel but didn’t attempt to bring him back; the team was fined 10,000 euros for the incident.
By the time the race was half over, it was clear that Hamilton was unhappy about the performance with his Mercedes. After he was told to conserve his tires, Hamilton fired back, “I can’t go any slower!” Jean-Éric Vergne suffered extensive damage to his Toro Rosso after Nico Hülkenberg of Sauber was released from his pit stop early and crashed into Vergne. The French driver’s car would eventually succumb to its injuries later in the race after completing 54 laps.
As the race entered its final third, all drivers found themselves pitting for the last time. For Räikkönen, this meant running on the hard tires for the first time. By pitting early and staying on the more durable compounds, he was banking on an extra Ferrari tire change to lead him to victory. Alonso and Massa did have to pit, but the Ferraris were so far in front of the Lotus that by the time both cars reentered, Räikkönen was still a bit behind Massa. In Lap 56, Räikkönen was able to worm his way in between the two Ferraris, and the positioning held until the end of the race 10 laps later.
Ferrari’s win and the retirement of Grosjean advanced Ferrari to second in the Constructors’ standings and bumped Lotus down a peg, while the 4-5 finish of Vettel and Webber kept Red Bull in first. Räikkönen’s second place finish also places him only 4 points behind Vettel in the Drivers’ standings.
One strategy that will surely affect the next race in Monaco is Ferrari’s decision to sprint the entire race, tires be damned. While much of the commentary this season has revolved around tire conservation and balancing that with performance, Ferrari experimented by running both of its cars and drivers at full capacity. It paid off for Ferrari here, when it proved that 4 tire changes can still eke out a win, if the lost time can be made up by hot laps.
The tire changes Pirelli made to its tires for the 2013 season have resulted in less durable tires that must be replaced more frequently, a favorite scapegoat griped about at the end of virtually every race from one driver or another. According to Racer, Pirelli will be examining its tire choices and may alter their rubber by the time the British Grand Prix at Silverstone commences on June 30.
The next race in the 2013 Formula 1 season will be held in Monaco on May 26.