Fernando Alonso sent his passionate fans into hysteria as the Ferrari driver charged from fifth on the grid to take his first victory at the Circuit de Catalunya since 2006.
Kimi Raikkonen emerged as Fernando’s main rival, while Sebastian Vettel and the front-row-starting Mercedes faded in the race.
Despite a three-place grid penalty for impeding in qualifying, Felipe Massa recovering from ninth to take the final podium spot.
In a race full of tyre conservation, Alonso’s approach was to go flat-out.
While Vettel split the Mercedes into Turn 1, Alonso accelerated around the outside of both Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton at Turn 3 to move into third.
Rosberg clung on at the front of the field through the first pitstops.
By the time they were done, Alonso was his main challenger, having pitted one lap ahead of Vettel and jumped the Red Bull.
Rosberg’s plunge down the race order began on lap 12, when Alonso passed him into Turn 1, with Vettel and Raikkonen further demoted him before that lap was completed.
Once in front, the home crowd favourite began to pull away.
Despite running longer, Vettel turned out to be on the same four-stop strategy as Alonso, but the championship leader was unable to match the Ferrari’s sheer pace.
Raikkonen, however, could pull off a three-stop strategy. The Finn lost time behind Vettel in the middle of the stint, and then raised his pace after overtaking the Red Bull on lap 33.
Lotus had a potential edge going into the closing stages of the Spanish Grand Prix, with Raikkonen a few seconds ahead of Alonso at a point when both had a single pit-stop left to go.
But on his fresher set of Pirellis, Alonso stormed up behind Raikkonen at a rate of two seconds per lap, breezed past the Lotus then vanished into the distance, swiftly building a 12-second advantage.
Raikkonen was left to fend off Massa, who had been rapid all race and got a green light from Ferrari to try to catch the Lotus. Tyre wear affected this charge and Felipe was forced to back off, so third was the result.
Vettel’s attempts to run longer on his set of tyres ultimately cost him so much pace that he fell behind the earlier-pitting Massa.
The defending world champion had to settle for fourth, followed by his Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber.
As for Mercedes, Nico Rosberg finished sixth after running a three-stop strategy while his team-mate Lewis Hamilton dropped right down the order in a lapped P12. His
Force India’s Paul di Resta chased the pole sitter to the chequered flag.
McLaren ended up eighth and ninth after 66 laps around the Circuit de Catalunya.
Jenson Button had tumbled to P17 in the opening laps, but nursed his tyres through three stops and emerged ahead of his early-charging, but four-stopping, team-mate Sergio Perez.
Daniel Ricciardo fended off Esteban Gutierrez to give Scuderia Toro Rosso the final championship point.
It was still a breakthrough day for Gutierrez, as a long first stint meant Sauber’s rookie managed to lead a Formula 1 race for the first time.
Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonado struggled home in P14, recovering from a pitlane speeding penalty.
Romain Grosjean was an early retirement with a broken right-rear suspension on his Lotus.
Two pitlane incidents attracted the race stewards’ attention.
Caterham could face sanctions after Giedo van der Garde lost a wheel on his out-lap, while Nico Hulkenberg had an unsafe release penalty following a pitlane clash with Jean-Eric Vergne, prior to which both had been points contenders.
So a great result for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso. This was the Italian team’s 221st victory in the sport and the Spaniard’s 32nd. And yet the talk after the race was all about tyres.
The drivers are forced to race below the limit in order to conserve the tyres. The sport is going through a difficult balancing act between entertainment and sporting this season.
Have Pirelli gone too far in making the tyres not durable? That is the big debate at the moment and yet we don’t want to see dull, processional racing as seen in the last decade. Hopefully the tyres won’t play a major factor in the upcoming races. Monaco could be interesting though as it’s narrow and difficult to overtake.
Spanish Grand Prix race results, after 66 laps:
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h39:16.596s
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +9.338
3. Massa Ferrari +26.049
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +38.273
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault +47.963
6. Rosberg Mercedes +1:08.020
7. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1:08.988
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes +1:19.506
9. Perez McLaren-Mercedes +1:21.738
10. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
11. Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Hamilton Mercedes +1 lap
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
14. Maldonado Williams-Renault +1 lap
15. Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
16. Bottas Williams-Renault +1 lap
17. Pic Caterham-Renault +1 lap
18. Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
19. Chilton Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 14 laps
Van der Garde Caterham-Renault 45 laps
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 58 laps
World Championship standings, round 5:
1. Vettel 89
2. Raikkonen 85
3. Alonso 72
4. Hamilton 50
5. Massa 45
6. Webber 42
7. Di Resta 26
8. Grosjean 26
9. Rosberg 22
10. Button 17
11. Perez 12
12. Ricciardo 7
13. Sutil 6
14. Hulkenberg 5
15. Vergne 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 131
2. Ferrari 117
3. Lotus-Renault 111
4. Mercedes 72
5. Force India-Mercedes 32
6. McLaren-Mercedes 29
7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 8
8. Sauber-Ferrari 5
Next race: Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo. May 23-26.