VALENCIA // The last time Fernando Alonso shed tears in a Formula One paddock was after capitulating his world championship lead in Abu Dhabi on the final day of the 2010 season.
Sunday, at the Valencia Street Circuit, the Spaniard's eyes were moist once more having fought his way up from 11th on the starting grid to triumph at a chaotic, captivating European Grand Prix in front of his compatriots.
"Winning this race in Spain is probably the best victory I ever felt in terms of emotions," Alonso said.
"Nothing can compare to this one."
The result saw the Ferrari driver regain the championship lead as he became the first man to win two races this season, ending a run of seven consecutive different winners.
The 30 year old passed the chequered flag ahead of Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher of Mercedes-GP, before - exhausted and emotional - stopping his car in front of a grandstand packed with Spanish supporters, climbing out and waving his country's flag.
"It's really difficult to express in words what is the feeling at the moment," Alonso said, after weeping on the top step of the podium.
"Winning the home grand prix is something unique, a very special feeling. I had the opportunity in Barcelona in 2006 with Renault, but now with Ferrari, with the grandstands full of red, I'm feeling very proud."
The unprecedented eighth different winner that many hoped would arrive at Valencia Street Circuit did not materialise, but Sunday's result was as unpredictable as any of the seven grands prix that have preceded it this season. The circuit at Valencia, having failed to produce anything other than processional racing in its four previous events, furnished fans with a thrilling, enthralling race.
Sebastian Vettel, the world champion, had started on pole for the third successive year and, having enjoyed a flawless start, quickly put a seemingly unassailable margin between his Red Bull Racing RB8 and Lewis Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes.
Alonso, starting from outside the top 10 at home for the first time since 2008, jumped up to eighth early on, but the race was Vettel's to lose.
On the 28th lap, and with Vettel leading Hamilton by more than 40 seconds, Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso collided with Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen while fighting for 17th position. As debris sprayed across the track, the safety car was deployed, effectively resurrecting a race that was otherwise all but over.
When the safety car pitted six laps later, Vettel's lead had vanished and Hamilton had slipped down the field following an error-ridden pit-stop. Romain Grosjean, the Lotus driver now running in second, was immediately passed by Alonso and within one circumnavigation of the 5.419km street circuit, the Spaniard inherited the lead as Vettel's alternator failed, forcing him to retire.
When Grosjean retired five laps later with the same problem, Alonso's closest rival appeared to be second-placed Hamilton, but he, too, saw his race end prematurely when he collided with Pastor Maldonado, giving Alonso a free run to the flag and the opportunity to give back to the 51,546 spectators who turned out to cheer on their national hero.
"I know it's not the best time in Spain at the moment, with the [financial] crisis and all the problems that people have," the two-time world champion said. "There are families who have made long trips to come here; they sleep in the car or in a caravan, they try to enjoy the race and [in qualifying], we didn't deliver what they were probably expecting.
"I think we have paid back a little bit - only a little bit - of the support that they gave us. Together with the football team and [tennis champion Rafael] Nadal, there is some kind of pride in being Spanish right now with sport, and I felt that I needed to do something special. It is a very emotional day."
The remarkable unravelling of events left Raikkonen running in second to claim a third podium of the season, while Schumacher claimed his first podium since returning from a three-year hiatus from the sport in 2010. The seven-time world champion revealed he had no idea he had even taken third until he passed the chequered flag.
"It is these moments that definitely you enjoy deeply, and it's just a wonderful feeling to be back after such a long time," Schumacher, who last finished on the podium in China in 2006, said.
"We were a couple of times close to it, and finally it happened in a very spectacular way and on a track where it is difficult to pass. But that is what I am here for, to be excited, hearing finally the message 'P3' is a sweet finish to an unexpected race."
Results Sunday for the Formula One European Grand Prix at the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) Valencia Street Circuit with driver, country, car, laps completed and time:
1. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Ferrari, 57 laps, 1:44:16.649
2. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus, 57, 6.4 seconds behind
3. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes, 57, 12.6
4. Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull, 57, 13.6
5. Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India, 57, 19.9
6. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes, 57, 21.1
7. Paul di Resta, Scotland, Force India, 57, 22.8
8. Jenson Button, England, McLaren, 57, 24.6
9. Sergio Perez, Sauber, 57, 27.7
10. Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams, 57, 35.9
11. Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Toro Rosso, 57, 37.0
12. Pastor Maldonado, Venzuela, Williams, 57, 54.6
13. Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham, 57, 75.8
14. Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham, 57, 94.6
15. Charles Pic, France, Marussia, 57, 96.5
16. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari 56, 1 lap
17. Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT, 56, 1 lap
18. Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT, 56, 1 lap
19. Lewis Hamilton, England, McLaren, retired
20. Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus, retired
21. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull, retired
22. Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber, retired
23. Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Toro Rosso, retired
Did Not Start
24. Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia
Driver Standings (After 8 of 20 races)
1. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Ferrari, 111 points.
2. Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull, 91
3. Lewis Hamilton, England, McLaren, 88
4. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull, 85
5. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes, 75
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus, 73
7. Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus, 53
8. Jenson Button, England, McLaren, 49
9. Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber, 39
10. Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams, 29
11. Paul di Resta, Scotland, Force India, 27
12. Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber, 21
13. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes, 17
14. Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India, 17
15. Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams, 16
16. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari, 11
17. Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Toro Rosso, 4
18. Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Toro Rosso, 2
1. Red Bull, 176 points
2. McLaren, 137
3. Lotus, 126
4. Ferrari, 122
5. Mercedes, 92
6. Sauber, 60
7. Williams, 45
8. Force India, 44
9. Toro Rosso, 6
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