Throwback Thursday: 2012 European Grand Prix
Whilst Formula One heads to Azerbaijan for the first time this weekend, F1 Hub throws it back to the last European Grand Prix in Valencia.
An incident-packed race saw Fernando Alonso win in front of a packed home crowd, whilst seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher returned to the podium.
However, pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel headed the field, ahead of Mclaren’s Lewis Hamilton and a surprising Pastor Maldonado.
Home favourite Alonso started from eleventh, looking unlikely for race victory after Ferrari only utilised one set of soft tyres in Q2 – the tactical error costing both Scuderia drivers a chance at Q3.
Both Vettel and Hamilton would get solid starts off the line, as the rest of the grid changed significantly behind them.
Both Alonso and Felipe Massa jumped to 8th and 10th respectively, and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen went from 5th to challenging Maldonado for 3rd.
Following the first set of stops, Alonso would begin his charge, held up by Schumacher who was yet to pit.
Akin to their battles of 2005 and ‘06, Schumacher valiantly defended the inside line into turn 2, but Alonso was able to find his way past two corners later.
Being passed by Raikkonen in amongst the barrage of cars further back, Bruno Senna covered the inside line into turn 8, unwittingly clipping Kamui Kobayashi.
With Kobayashi’s front wing damaged and Senna’s right rear punctured, both men were required into the pits – the latter being given a drive-through penalty.
Climbing up to 4th by mid-race after passing Force India’s Paul Di Resta, Alonso was now firmly in contention for the coveted prize.
The race would then witness a variety of controversial incidents, as firstly Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric Vergne passed Heiki Kovalainen into turn 12 on lap 27.
Misjudging the space between the two under DRS, Vergne swerved right and clouted Kovalainen’s right rear tyre.
The Caterham driver was able to continue, but Vergne later retired with suspension damage, requiring the safety car due to debris from the crash.
The period would spell trouble for the front runners, as Vettel’s colossal lead was voided, and Hamilton endured an extended pit-stop following a front-jack failure.
All this would benefit Alonso, who was slowly making his way up the ranks with a dash of both fortune and mastery.
The latter was more so evident on the restart, as Alonso then used 2nd placed Romain Grosjean’s slipstream to pass him on the outside of turn 2.
A string of retirements would follow, as first and second placed Vettel and Grosjean retired with mechanical problems a few laps apart.
Lewis Hamilton then surrendered second spot to Kimi Raikkonen on fresher tyres, bringing Maldonado into play for the final podium spot.
After tussling for a number of laps, Maldonado attempted to take Hamilton on the outside of turn 12, finding himself beyond track limits.
As Hamilton took the racing line into turn 13, Maldonado then spontaneously attempted to rejoin the track, as the contact sent Hamilton into the barrier.
Speaking to The Telegraph after the race, Hamilton expressed disappointment at the incident and subsequent championship standings.
“I went into the corner and I didn’t come out. I only remember sitting in the wall with only a couple of laps to go.
“You put your heart and soul into some things and when you don’t get the result you feel you worked for it’s very tough, but that’s life.”
The carnage would play into the hands of Schumacher, who was leading Webber on a charge from tenth place and now in contention for the final podium position.
Narrowly holding him off, Schumacher would earn his first and only podium during his Mercedes comeback tenure.
However the race belonged to Alonso, a spirited drive from 11th on the grid to win valiantly in front of the passionate home crowd.
Famously parking in front of a packed grand stand as his parc fermé, Alonso rose out of his car and saluted the home support in jubilation.
Joined on either side of the podium by Raikkonen and Schumacher – 6 Ferrari titles shared between the pair – neither could topple the titanic drive from Alonso.
Speaking later with Sky Sports, Alonso expressed the magnitude of the race.
“Winning in Spain this race is probably the best victory I ever felt, or in terms of emotions, nothing maybe compares to this one.”
The race also gave Alonso the championship lead at the time, though he would eventually lose out in the title fight to rival Sebastian Vettel.
The race would also spell the finale for Valencia’s Grand Prix, as the paddock has not returned there since.
An extended hiatus would follow the event for the European Grand Prix, however the race returns this weekend in Baku.