Coming from 11th on the starting grid, Spain’s Fernando Alonso won the European Grand Prix at Valencia after race-leading Sebastian Vettel dropped out with a mechanical failure and a “fuming” Lewis Hamilton (again) drove into the wall. (The stewards later ruled ridiculously that Pastor Maldonado had caused the collision for failing to rejoin the track in a safe manner, and imposed a 20 second penalty to his race time.) Meanwhile, 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher finished 3rd for his first F1 podium since 2006 and the best result of his comeback drive with Mercedes. At 43, the German is the oldest driver to make an appearance on the dais since Sir Jack Brabham at the British GP in 1970.
A furious Lewis Hamilton flung his steering wheel to the ground and walked away in despair before leaving the track on Sunday after his collision with Pastor Maldonado cost him a possible podium place in the European Grand Prix.
While Fernando Alonso was celebrating the 29th Formula One victory of his career – one that takes him 20 points clear at the top of the drivers’ championship – Hamilton was pondering what might have been after his coming together with Maldonado on the penultimate lap. The stewards blamed the Williams driver for the incident, handing him a 20-second drive-through penalty. Maldonado, however, pointed the finger at Hamilton.
“Lewis did not leave me any space. He tried to push me off the track,” the Venezuelan said. “When he was pushing me off the track the floor of my car caught the kerb and that is what caused me to jump into him.
“It is not the first time this has happened with Lewis. I think he could have avoided the contact. He was around a second slower, there were only few laps to go. I don’t know why he did that. I think it would have been better if he had backed off a little bit and not drive so aggressively. I am not happy because I could have easily been on the podium.”
Hamilton, who was involved in a collision with Maldonado at Monaco last year, was strangely vague about the incident. He said: “I don’t really know what happened, if I am honest. I went in the corner and I didn’t come out. It happened so fast I really don’t remember what happened. All I remember is sitting in the wall with only a lap to go.”
The race was almost a cameo of Hamilton’s frustrating season, so those who thought that his fortunes had turned with thrillingvictory in Canada in the previous race will have to think again. There was the familiar pantomime of his pit stop for new rubber, when the front-wheel jack appeared to fail. That dropped him from second to sixth and he was the only real casualty of the introduction of the safety car as debris was removed from the track.
Then it was reported that he would be investigated for ignoring the waving of yellow flags, though he was later cleared.
After all that, he was poised to come second or third and maintain the consistency of his season. He was in third place, having been just been overtaken by Kimi Raikkonen, when the Maldonado incident took place. But his worn rear tyres were giving him little grip, so a podium position was still in considerable doubt.
Hamilton added: “I had a bad day at the office, that is motor racing. It does change the championship a lot; we lost a lot of points today. But fortunately for us a couple of the others that we are fighting with, for example Sebastian [Vettel], weren’t able to score either.
“It is not the be all and end all but it does make things tougher. You put your heart and soul into some things and when you don’t get the results that you feel that you worked for it is very tough. But that is life. I am looking forward to my home grand prix. We have to move on and I am looking forward to the Silverstone Grand Prix.”
Jenson Button’s pre-race assertion that nothing much happens at Valencia could not scarcely have been more wrong. Everything happened. Alonso produced one of his greatest drives to become the first driver to win twice in this most unpredictable of seasons. The people of Spain, beset by financial woes, have been offered a glorious distraction by sport. This victory meant a heady celebration for the fans here, already jubilant after Spain’s win against France in the European Championship the day before, and still glowing from Rafael Nadal’s recent win in the French Open tennis tournament.
Alonso looked close to tears when he said: “It’s really difficult to express in words what is the feeling at the moment. Winning the home grand prix is something unique, a very special feeling. I had the opportunity in Barcelona in 2006 with Renault and I still remember that moment perfectly. But now I had opportunity with Ferrari, with the grandstands full of red colours. I’m feeling very proud, and winning this race in Spain is probably the best victory I ever felt in terms of emotions. Nothing can compare to this one.”
The race appeared to belong to Sebastian Vettel, who tore away from pole two seconds a lap faster than the second?placed Hamilton. Even when the safety car came out to erode Vettel’s advantage the German looked certain to win and go top of the table. But he was struck by alternator trouble after dominating proceedings for more than an hour. Romain Grosjean’s realistic hopes of second place were hit by the same problem a few laps later.
It was a memorable day for Michael Schumacher, who came third behind Kimi Raikkonen, his first podium place since 2006, some 99 races ago. At 43 he was the oldest driver to make an appearance on the dais since Sir Jack Brabham at the British Grand Prix in 1970. So Alonso leads the championship by 20 points, with Mark Webber, who started 19th yesterday and finished fourth, in second place.
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