Sebastian Vettel took his second victory of the season in a dramatic European Grand Prix in Valencia. Lewis Hamilton put in a brave fight for McLaren with second position and even a drive-though penalty for overtaking the safety car was unable to affect his determination to beat the Red Bull. Team-mate Jenson Button finished in third but he is one of nine drivers to be investigated by the race stewards during the safety car period.
As for Mark Webber, this was a race to forget. The Australian made a poor start and was overtaken by Lewis Hamilton and both Ferraris into the Turn 2. At the end of the opening lap, the Red Bull was down in ninth while team-mate Vettel was resisting the pressure from Hamilton at the front.
Hamilton’s run off the line was so good he was able to get partially alongside Vettel into Turn 2, where firm contact was made, sending the Red Bull slightly sideways and taking a chunk from the McLaren’s front wing, though both continued ahead of Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Button.
Unable to make progress around the twisty street circuit, Webber made an early pitstop at the end of lap seven, where he lost a few more seconds as his left-front wheel proved stubborn.
That lost time put the Australian behind Heikki Kovalainen and as he tried to pass the Lotus three laps later he went flying over the back of the car on the fast approach to the Turn 17 hairpin.
The Red Bull wiped out an advertising board hanging over the track before landing upside down, rolling back onto its wheels and ploughing into the tyre barriers – though remarkably Mark climbed out unscathed.
With the safety car called, most drivers from fifth-placed Button back immediately dived into the pitlane, while the top four continued. Vettel was already past the pit exit by the time the safety car emerged, but for Hamilton he was not so fortunate. After a moment’s hesitation, he accelerated past but having passed the relevant safety car line across the track, that meant the McLaren would later be penalised for overtaking the safety car.
Vettel and Hamilton were therefore able to rejoin first and second, while the Scuderias were caught behind the safety car and fell down to P10 and P17 – leaving the team furious.
Fortunately for Hamilton, Sauber decided not to call in Kamui Kobayashi under the yellow and he jumped up to third. So while the top two charged clear at the restart – which saw Vettel hold the line despite outbraking himself and sliding through the final corner – the Sauber bottled up the rest of the pack. By the time race control awarded Hamilton his drive-through penalty, he had enough of a gap over Kobayashi to take the penalty without losing a position. A remarkable job.
Hamilton started carving into Vettel’s lead setting purple sector times around the Valencia street circuit. His progress was superb although the Virgin of Timo Glock and Bruno Senna’s Hispania held him up momentarily. The pair were fighting over track position and shortly afterwards making contact. But Vettel had the advantage and was able to resist Hamilton’s charge with a new fastest lap five laps from the chequered flag.
Kobayashi kept Button and the rest at bay until finally making a single pitstop on lap 53, which handed McLaren its second podium position, ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Renault’s Robert Kubica and the Force India of Adrian Sutil.
The frustrated Alonso spent the final laps all over Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso but ended up losing eighth to Kobayashi as the Sauber rejoined on its fresh Bridgestone and dived past the double world champion with a lap to go. Kobayashi then chased down Buemi too and grabbed seventh at the very last corner.
But these positions may yet be subject to change, with the race stewards set to investigate whether Button, the Williams, the Renaults, the Force Indias, Buemi and Pedro de la Rosa exceeded the permitted speed on their way back to the pits under yellow.
After several hours following the chequered flag, the race stewards penalised Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hulkenberg, Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Adrian Sutil, Sebastien Buemi, Pedro de la Rosa and Vitantonio Liuzzi with five seconds penalties for exceeding the safety car-in lap time.
The penalties mean Fernando Alonso is elevated from ninth to eighth, as he overtakes Buemi, and Nico Rosberg gets the final point from Pedro de la Rosa, tenth in the race.
As for the Silver Arrows, this was a nightmare weekend. Nico Rosberg lost so much ground on the opening lap and by the end, he was classified in a disappointing P12. As for team-mate Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion suffered from a bad strategy call during the caution period and ending up P16 after multiple pitstops.
So Germany takes top honours ahead of the England in Valencia. An omen to the World Cup match taking place in South Africa?
Race results from Valencia, 57 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h40:29.571
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +5.042
3. Button McLaren-Mercedes +12.658
4. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +25.627
5. Kubica Renault +27.122
6. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +30.168
7. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +30.965
8. Alonso Ferrari +32.809
9. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +36.299
10. Rosberg Mercedes +44.382
11. Massa Ferrari +46.621
12. De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari +47.414
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +48.239
14. Petrov Renault +48.287
15. Schumacher Mercedes +48.826
16. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes +50.890
17. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
20. Senna HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth +4 laps
Fastest lap: Button, 1:38.766
Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 50 laps
Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 9 laps
Webber Red Bull-Renault 9 laps
World Championship standings, round 9:
1. Hamilton 127
2. Button 121
3. Vettel 115
4. Webber 103
5. Alonso 98
6. Kubica 83
7. Rosberg 75
8. Massa 67
9. Schumacher 34
10. Sutil 31
11. Barrichello 19
12. Liuzzi 12
13. Buemi 9
14. Kobayashi 7
15. Petrov 6
16. Alguersuari 3
17. Hulkenberg 1
1. McLaren-Mercedes 248
2. Red Bull-Renault 218
3. Ferrari 165
4. Mercedes 109
5. Renault 89
6. Force India-Mercedes 43
7. Williams-Cosworth 20
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 10
9. Sauber-Ferrari 7
Next race: British Grand Prix, Silverstone. July 9-11.