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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Alonso saves his best for Valencia // The Spaniard becomes the first double winner of 2012

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Well what a race? It had everything. Not only did it have the mad overtaking frenzy that everyone hoped for, we also had alternate strategies, although the safety car put paid to the debate over soft or hard tyre for the second stint. We also had a range in performances, unlike what’s happened in previous races, where there haven’t been many poor performances but more great performances. This weekend had a variation that told in the final standings.

Top marks

Alonso fights for position in Valencia
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A

Driver of the day has to be Fernando Alonso, and not just because he won the race. He absolutely earned that win, even if he had a fair chunk of luck along the way. He started from eleventh because there simply weren’t enough slots in Q3. He was 0.004 seconds off progressing to the top ten shootout on used tyres, when he could have used a set of fresh set of soft tyres; although widely criticised, this move may have helped him on his way to the win as he had fresher tyres on Sunday.

In the race, he was aggressive and robust in working his way through the field to get himself up to eighth early in lap one, forcing his way past Button, di Resta and Rosberg. By the time everyone was in order under the safety car Alonso was third, benefitting from fellow challenger Lewis Hamilton’s hard luck with not one but two jacks at the pitstop.

Of course, Fernando Alonso did benefit from the safety car as it put him in range of the lead, cutting a 30 second gap to a few car lengths, but from there he made a gutsy dive down the outside of Romain Grosjean into turn 2, putting him first in line to benefit from Sebastian Vettel's alternator failure.

From there, he didn't look back as he managed the gap consistently, keeping Grosjean at the distant end of the DRS zone until his own alternator issue destroyed his best chance of a victory yet when he had Alonso in his sights. With Hamilton behind struggling with his tyres, Fernando had a buffer, allowing him to control his pace and drive to a very emotional home win.

A great Hamilton drive goes unrewarded

Hamilton readies himself for a long afternoon in Valencia
Hamilton readies himself for a long afternoon in ValenciaCredit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Next, I have to mention the man classified 19th, Lewis Hamilton. He drove the best race he could, coming up two laps short with the tyres, which led to his downfall. Given Schumacher and Webber's pace, it's hard to say how many points his collision with Maldonado cost him but I assume he would have finished sixth as he would have been catastrophically slow with no tyres on the final lap.

It was clear watching on Friday that McLaren didn't have the race pace to win, even if they did over one lap. Despite this Hamilton kept in the hunt, acting as perfect protection for both Vettel and Alonso, and keeping the car far higher than it should have been until his fateful moment with Pastor Maldonado.

Force India turn on the style

Usually one of the factors I look at when deciding who had the best race is how they compared to their teammate, as it shows whether one has excelled or one has disappointed. However this week I think that both Force Indias deserve a mention for their drives to fifth and seventh.

Although both cars fell away in the final laps, it was as impressive a performance as the Silverstone based team has had in a while. After the Maldonado/Hamilton incident on the penultimate lap, Hülkenberg was sat on a podium spot, with Di Resta trailing a few seconds behind. Unfortunately for them, after late stops, the Mercedes and Mark Webber stormed through to ruin their party. Despite this it marked Hülkenberg’s best finish in Formula One with Di Resta building on his ever-growing reputation.

They must be leaving Valencia with a feeling what might have been

It is a track that suits the Force India, as they have gone well there in each of the past three seasons. Both cars qualified in the top ten (Hülkenberg 8th, Di Resta 10th), and could have easily qualified higher; Di Resta dropping from a potential top five grid slot with a poor final sector. It was good to see the Force India show real pace and put them right back in the midfield hunt in the championship, they are only a point behind Williams in eighth. Although, they must be leaving Valencia with a feeling what might have been. What if Paul di Resta had qualified where he could have done? Hypothetically, what if the race had ended a lap earlier, they would have had 11 more points to their name. Having said that, 16 points is a good haul for them and they benefitted from luck themselves as four cars ahead of them dropped out to push them up the order.

Late race charge for Schumacher and Webber

Schumacher makes a return to the podium in Valencia
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

Finally, another couple of drivers also impressed but had their strategy to thank for getting them the result.

Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber both pitted late to put on the soft tyres and stormed through the field late in the race as others’ tyres fell away dramatically, benefitting from a few contenders falling by the wayside along the way.

They started the penultimate lap seventh and eighth and managed to gain four spots each on the final two laps, having been out of the points with ten laps to go.

Valencia has shaken up order

PositionDriverQualified
1F Alonso11
2K Räikkönen5
3M Schumacher12
4M Webber19
5N Hülkenberg8
6N Rosberg6
7P di Resta10
8J Button9
9S Pérez15
10B Senna14

So a wacky result that took some predicting. It was not at all what was expected and all I can say is please can we have more of the same! It was arguably the best Grand Prix of the year as we saw so many contenders fall by the wayside, as well as others recover to score valuable points. I have to say, I think there was something in the water this weekend as all of the support races were a bit wild too.

In hindsight, the men leaving Spain the most disappointed have to be at Lotus. After the safety car, that was Grosjean’s race to win, given his kind nature on the tyres. Even taking all of the retirements into account, Räikkönen should have contended for the win far more than he did with the car he has.

It appears that he has the ability to drive the Lotus to a respectable finish but just can’t extract the absolute maximum from the car the way Grosjean does. Is this the lingering effects from his comeback having an effect? Possibly, but at the moment you have to back Grosjean to get Lotus’ first win of the year.

Looking ahead to F1 coming home

So next up is Silverstone, it’s going to be a tough act to follow. It’s been a few years since we’ve had a great, dry British GP. Hopefully, the lunacy continues and we have another great race to look forward to.

With its aerodynamic ability, McLaren has to be the early favourites with the sweeping high-speed nature of the track, but Red Bull and Ferrari won’t be far behind. And of course, if the big three are not on their game, Lotus will be there to pounce.