Fernando Alonso made it a wonderful sporting weekend for Spain with victory in an exciting European Grand Prix at Valencia.
The double world champion came through from eleventh on the grid to take a remarkable home victory and he now leads the world championship.
Alonso benefited from Sebastian Vettel’s non-finish to record his second win of the season. The German had this race under control during the first half but a mechanical problem on the Red Bull forced him out.
Lewis Hamilton was also out of the European Grand Prix after a collision with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams as they fought for third.
Romain Grosjean had looked like a victory threat as the Lotus driver chased Alonso, only to suffer an alternator failure, but his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen came through to claim second after a late pass on the fading Hamilton, whose incident with Maldonado then allowed Michael Schumacher to make his podium return for Mercedes in third position, chased by 19th-place qualifier Mark Webber’s Red Bull.
Vettel commanded the early stages, immediately pulling out a lead of several seconds as the pack behind took several corners to sort itself out. Front row qualifier Hamilton got away slowly, and had to fend off before establishing himself in second ahead of Grosjean, Kamui Kobayashi, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and the fast-starting Alonso.
During the opening stint Alonso overtook Hulkenberg and followed Raikkonen past Maldonado, then jumped Raikkonen and Kobayashi by running one lap longer before his first pitstop.
This group then came out in a long train of yet-to-stop cars, through which Alonso made much more assertive progress than his rivals.
Approaching half-distance, Vettel was leading by twenty seconds over Grosjean, who had overtaken Hamilton with a neat outside-line move on lap ten and then pulled out a ten seconds gap over the McLaren, which had Alonso edging closer.
When the Safety Car was called out to clear debris from a clash between Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso and Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham, most drivers made their second and final pitstops.
Hamilton’s pitstop was a disaster. That allowed Alonso to gain a position to third, and the Spaniard then went around the outside of Grosjean into the first corner at the restart to claim second.
Moments later that second position became the race lead, as Vettel’s Red Bull suddenly cut out (possibly an alternator failure) and retired, to the world champion’s shock.
Grosjean kept Alonso under pressure and still seemed a likely winner, only for an alternator failure to halt the Lotus with 17 laps to the flag.
After that Alonso was able to pull clear and become the first repeat winner this season, retaking the world championship lead in the process.
Hamilton held on to second until the final two laps, when his tyres fading away. Raikkonen got past after a long battle, but when Maldonado tried to do the same, the pair clashed, putting the McLaren in the barriers and breaking the front wing off his Williams.
That allowed Schumacher through to claim the first podium of his Formula One return, as fended off Webber, who made great progress through from P19 on the grid.
Maldonado was able to finish the race despite the clash and the Venezuelan was followed home by his Williams team-mate Bruno Senna, who got a drive-through penalty for a collision with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who’d enjoyed a long spell in fourth place prior to the first round of pit stops. That became P11 after Maldonado’s penalty.
Both Schumacher and Webber passed the Force Indias in the closing stages, with Nico Rosberg then getting his Mercedes between Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta’s Force Indias to take sixth on the final lap.
Jenson Button had a low-key run to eighth for McLaren, ahead of Sergio Perez’s Sauber and the limping Maldonado.
The second Ferrari of Felipe Massa was delayed with damage from a collision with Kobayashi and finished a lowly P16. Kobayashi had to retire after the incident.
For some of the race it looked like Caterham might score its first point, as solid pace and the attrition ahead allowed Vitaly Petrov to pick his way up to tenth place. But the Russian was pushed back down the order and then tangled with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
After the race, Vergne received a 10-place grid drop and a €25,000 fine for his collision with Kovalainen.
Alonso now has 111 points, from Webber on 91. Then come Hamilton on 88 and Vettel on 85, as Rosberg moves to fifth on 75 and Raikkonen to sixth on 73.
In the constructors chase, Red Bull have 176 to McLaren’s 137, Lotus’s 126, Ferrari’s 122 and Mercedes’ 92.
European Grand Prix race result, 57 laps:
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h44:16.449
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +6.421
3. Schumacher Mercedes +12.639
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +13.628
5. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes +19.993
6. Rosberg Mercedes +21.176
7. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +22.886
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes +24.653
9. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +27.777
10. Senna Williams-Renault +35.900
11. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +37.000
12. Maldonado Williams-Renault +54.630*
13. Petrov Caterham-Renault +1:15.871
14. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault +1:34.654
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth +1:36.565
16. Massa Ferrari +1 lap
17. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth +1 lap
18. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +2 laps
*Post-race penalty for crashing into Hamilton. Added 20 seconds.
Fastest lap: Rosberg, 1:42.163
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 41 laps
Vettel Red Bull-Renault 34 laps
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 34 laps
Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 27 laps
Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 8:
1. Alonso 111
2. Webber 91
3. Hamilton 88
4. Vettel 85
5. Rosberg 75
6. Raikkonen 73
7. Grosjean 53
8. Button 49
9. Perez 39
10. Maldonado 29
11. Di Resta 27
12. Kobayashi 21
13. Hulkenberg 17
14. Schumacher 17
15. Senna 16
16. Massa 11
17. Vergne 4
18. Ricciardo 2
1. Red Bull-Renault 176
2. McLaren-Mercedes 137
3. Lotus-Renault 126
4. Ferrari 122
5. Mercedes 92
6. Sauber-Ferrari 60
7. Williams-Renault 45
8. Force India-Mercedes 44
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
Next race: British Grand Prix, Silverstone. July 6-8.