Last time out at Montreal, this was how I concluded my Ferrari F1 blog post:”Next time out at Valencia, it’s a home race for Fernando. Perhaps, with what the team has learned in Canada, he can win the European Grand Prix in front of his adoring Spanish fans.”
For Fernando Alonso, the 2012 European Grand Prix at Valencia must have felt like a dream. After struggling for pace in practice, both Ferraris qualified out of the top 10 in the team’s worst qualifying performance since the first race in Australia. The Scuderia were arguably too conservative in deciding not to run a second set of option tyres in Q2, but this decision would pay dividends in the race when both drivers had an extra set of fresh rubber available.
Alonso made a terrific start from eleventh, quickly mixing it up with the Force India, Williams and Mercedes cars, biding his time and making some dramatic passes, mostly around the outside of other drivers. He was fourth when the game changing safety car period started.
At this point, Vettel had built up an ominous 20 second lead over Hamilton and Grojean. Most of the front runners pitted, but more pit-stop problems for Hamilton put Fernando into third. At the restart the young Frenchman, Grojean, was caught napping and Alonso muscled past him on the outside into turn one. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa was having another unconvincing race, struggling for pace and colliding with Kobayashi. He would eventually finish sixteenth and be lapped by Alonso, raising more questions about his value to the team after another huge gap in performance to his team-mate.
Then came the pinch yourself moment for the hometown hero as both Grojean and Vettel were forced to retire in shocking circumstances. The alternators failed on the Renault engines in the Lotus and Red Bull almost simultaneously, prompting some to wonder if the drivers were suffering with engine temperature problems during the long safety car period.
On the radio, Alonso was clearly very emotional. A technical issue saw him park the car in front of a grandstand where he paraded the Spanish national flag and danced to their chants with the race marshals. It is rare in modern F1 for drivers to be able to share a victory with their fans like this and the passion was clear to everyone.
After an extremely emotional weekend for Fernando Alonso in Valencia, we move on to the British Grand Prix, site of the only Ferrari race win in 2011. Practice was something of a write-off for all of the teams with terrible wet conditions resulting in almost no running as everyone looked to save their three sets of wet tyres in case of a wet race. Qualifying was similar, with various levels of rain. Eventually Fernando pipped Webber for pole position, avoiding of some of the mistakes he has shown in the rain in recent seasons. Massa was fifth, making it Ferrari’s best qualifying in 2012.
Surprisingly, race day turned out to be dry. Fernando made a good start, defending from Webber to hold the lead. Throughout the majority of the race he maintained a four second gap over the Red Bull Drivers and in the second stint he made a terrific pass on Lewis Hamilton before the local favourite had made his first stop.
Due to the wet qualifying, teams were free to choose either the option or prime tyres to start the race. The Red Bulls went with the traditional choice, starting on options, while Fernando chose prime tyres. On paper, Ferrari’s strategy was the optimal one as it would put them on the grippier soft tyres at the end of the race when fuel is low and the track is in peak condition.
Despite leading the majority of the race before finishing second, the result should not be too disappointing for the Scuderia or the Tifosi. Fernando still finished ahead of Vettel and Hamilton and maintains his championship lead, though Webber is arguably now emerging as a stronger title threat.
Consistency and upgrades will continue to be the key between now and the end of the season. Massa’s fourth place finish also shows signs of improvement and the prancing horse will need him to start taking more points off Alonso’s championship rivals throughout the remaining races.
Joe Barron is the Community Evangelist at iPhone game developer, Kwalee. He is an avid racing gamer and has written sim & wheel reviews for GameSpot.com, CItizenGame.co.uk and HookedGamers.com. He’s also a massive Ferrari fan! These views do not reprsent those of Veni Vidi Vici.