Alonso Pulls Another Rabbit Out Of His Hat
Contributor: James Parker, TJ13 on track correspondent
Infront of his adoring home crowd, Fernando Alonso made history in Cataluyna by claiming victory from 5th on the grid. Beating Michael Schumacher’s record from 1996, the Spaniard now boasts the honour of winning the Spanish Grand Prix from the lowest grid position in dry conditions. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen drove a solid 3 stop race to 2nd, whilst the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa eclipsed Alonso’s 4 stop strategy to round off the top 3, to go on and claim his first podium of 2013.
The big questions ahead of the Grand Prix were solely tyre related, with many teams unsure on whether a 3 stop or 4 stop strategy would be fastest. Paul Hembrey of Pirelli before the race was quoted as saying a 3 stop race would suffice, but no-one was to predict the incredible wear rates of the supposed “prototype” harder compound tyre.
The start of the Grand Prix was dominated once again by the ability of both Ferrari’s to get off the line. Alonso had a tremendous jump off the line, and then managed to pull off a stellar double overtake around Turns 2 and 3. Mugging Raikkonen off the exit of turn 2, he hung it all out around the outside of Hamilton in turn 3 to claim 3rd, who himself had been jumped by Vettel off the start, with the German claiming 2nd behind Rosberg.
Further down, Perez made an excellent getaway to get up to 6th, however was quickly passed by the recovering Massa on lap 2 down the long pit straight. The Brazilian quickly cruised up to the back of Raikkonen in 5th to make a 6 car train.
From as early as lap 5, it was clear that the Mercedes cars were going to struggle in race trim. Hamilton quickly dropped off the back of 3rd place man Alonso, which in turn hampered 5th place Raikkonen who simply could not afford to let the first 3 build up a gap.
The key move happened on lap 7, where the Finn made an excellent dive down into the hairpin at T10 to claim 4th place. This set the tone for Hamilton’s race who found himself also passed by Massa into the same place on lap 8, and from there, found himself tumbling down the order at a vast rate of knots.
Lotus, who were looking at trying to close the gap in the WCC this weekend, found themselves out of luck, as on lap 9 Grosjean was forced to retire from the race with a right rear suspension failure.
But it was the rate at which the Pirelli’s were wearing which started to cause concern. Webber made his first stop on just lap 8 for some fresh harder compounds, and many thought it was just to catch some clean air.
However on lap 9, Alonso, Hamilton and Di Resta all came in for a new set of hards too, which painted a picture of a Grand Prix which was to be solely influenced by high tyre degradation with 4 stops considered the normality .
Race Leader Rosberg, Vettel and Raikkonen all opted to pit one lap later, it was this decision by the leading 3 which would see Alonso create the framework for his victory.
On fresh rubber the Spaniard produced a magnificent outlap to jump Vettel to send him into 2nd. Massa, who also pitted 2 laps earlier made the most of the fresh rubber to jump Kimi Raikkonen into 4th.
This allowed Alonso to perfectly map out the rest of his Grand Prix, knowing that Rosberg was in trouble with tyre wear. On lap 13, a pass into T1 saw the Ferrari driver jump into the provisional race lead much to the delight of the Spanish crowd. The following 3 sniffed blood, and in the space of a lap all dispatched the Mercedes man, pushing Rosberg down to 5th place by lap 15.
All remained pretty static on track up to the 3rd round of pitstops where strategy was set to play a key part in determining the race winner. Alonso and Massa both pitted on lap 37 together, with the Spaniard emerging just behind the Lotus of Raikkonen who was trying to make a 3 stop strategy work – sticking with the medium compound tyre.
He wasted no time in getting past Raikkonen down into Turn 1 two laps later, with the crucial part of the race now emerging – could Alonso stretch the lead enough to cover a 4th stop ahead of the Finn?
Vettel was the next to pit on lap 40, which subsequently released Felipe Massa into 2nd place behind his team-mate and was set to take crucial points off the Redbull man. Raikkonen managed to stretch his stint out to lap 46, at which point he switched to the fresh set of harder compound tyres he saved from Qualifying.
With 20 laps left, it was all about how the Finn could respond to Alonso. 29 seconds off the race leader, he needed to make 10 seconds up before the Spaniard had to pit for his final stop of the day in order to jump him. However, whilst Raikkonen was quickly making an impression on the gap to 2nd place man Massa, Alonso seemingly had pace to spare in his back pocket – managing the gap beautifully.
The Ferrari man’s final stop on lap 50 passed without a problem, and he emerged comfortably ahead of both his team-mate and Raikkonen. Both Massa and Vettel went onto the harder compound tyres on lap 52 in their 4th and final stops, Massa rejoining in a solid 3rd ahead of Vettel.
A late charge by Massa was halted by the rapidly degrading Pirelli’s which left Raikkonen safe for 2nd. But upfront, it was a superlative drive by Fernando Alonso, who by doing all of the hard work in the middle stint of the Grand Prix set up an easy finish – much to the delight of the Spanish crowd.
5th was by Mark Webber who produced a solid if unspectacular recovery drive, finishing 9 seconds off his team-mate Vettel in 4th . 6th was Rosberg who held off a late charge by Force India’s Paul Di Resta who claimed 7th and solid points once again for the FI team. The Mercedes man I am sure must be relieved to have not dropped like a stone during the latter part of the Grand Prix. 8th and 9th were the McLaren duo of Button and Perez, who after such an unflattering weekend were thankful to have received a double point’s finish, with the Torro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top 10.