Propelled by passion and patriotism, Fernando Alonso triumphed in front of his compatriots to end a seven-year wait and win his second Spanish Grand Prix. The convincing nature of the result – from fifth to first within the space of 13 laps – strengthens belief that Ferrari are, after six years of pain, ready to mount a sustained and successful title challenge this season.
Alonso finished nine seconds ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen at Circuit de Catalunya to become the first driver to win from outside the top three starting positions. Yet it was the performance of teammate Felipe Massa that will have generated increased credence in the Prancing Horse’s competitive plans. The Brazilian finished third to take his first podium of the year and ensure Red Bull Racing’s three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel missed out on the podium for the second time in three races.
The sight of the home favourite securing the win ensured that a race that was otherwise excessively strategic finished with rapturous celebrations. Alonso, who stopped on his slowdown lap to collect a Spanish flag from a fan, was later summoned by the race stewards, while he, Massa and team principal Stefano Domenicali were shown speaking by phone to Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, who had been in Barcelona the previous day to inspire and call for a purposeful push.
“Winning at home is always fantastic,” Alonso said. “There are a lot of supporters and they will have a smile, at least for one afternoon and evening. It’s not easy for the country at the moment, so it was great to win. We have a competitive package and we need to make it a bit faster, especially on a Saturday, but we have a good car.”
“We knew that if we were going to win the race, we had to pass people at the start,” he said. “The start was very good – it was very narrow and we didn’t have the space to move a little bit, so I waited for a better opportunity.”
Pole-sitter Nico Rosberg and Vettel remained in his way until the first of his four pit-stops, where he managed to leapfrog Vettel, and quickly, with fresh tyres, make light work of Rosberg.
With the outright lead in the Spaniard’s hands, it became a question of whether the two-time world champion could create a big enough gap from Raikkonen, who was running a three-stop strategy compared to Alonso’s four, to allow him his additional stop.
Ultimately he was – although courtesy of the unpredictable nature of the tyres, he was never confident until after his final stop.
“I had no idea what could happen,” Alonso said. “We knew Kimi was on a different strategy, [but] we didn’t know how the tyres were going to behave.”
As has become increasingly the case this season, tyre management again proved critical – and provoked criticism.
Rosberg and Hamilton started on the front row after posting the two quickest single laps of qualifying, and yet such is Mercedes’ inability to control their tyre wear that both drivers moved backward immediately. Rosberg eventually finished sixth and Hamilton slipped to a disappointing 12th.
Vettel and Red Bull may lead the championship, but they are struggling with Pirelli’s quick-wearing 2013 compounds, which proved so vulnerable that the field of 22 drivers shared 82 pit stops between them. Vettel complained the team are “not going to the pace of the car,” but rather “we are going the pace of the tyres”.
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, went as far as to say tyres will decide the title.
Paul Hembery, the motorsport director for the tyre manufacturer, admitted post-race that Pirelli had “got it wrong” and were “too aggressive”.
He revealed changes will be made ahead of the British Grand Prix in late June. Until then, however, Ferrari are looking formidably quick, while Lotus seem to understand the rubber better than anybody.
When proceedings reconvene in Monaco in two weeks, a new order will not yet be in place, but a changing of the guard is in the offing. Vettel and his three-year domination is at threat as Alonso, whose 32nd career victory means he passes Nigel Mansell on the all-time winners’ list, moves to third in this year’s title standings.
Raikkonen’s second-place finish also means he is now just four points behind Vettel.
“We won and we’re happy for that,” Alonso said. “But we don’t want to stop here. Looking at the last three years, even when we were not competitive in Monte Carlo, we always managed to be on the podium, so that’s the aim.”
Spanish GP race results
1 Alonso, Ferrari 1h38m56.681s
2 Raikkonen, Lotus +9.3 secs
3 Massa, Ferrari +26.0
4 Vettel, Red Bull +38.2
5 Webber, Red Bull +47.9
6 Rosberg, Mercedes +1.08.0
7 Di Resta, Force India +1.08.9
8 Button, McLaren +1.19.5
9 Perez, McLaren +1.21.7
10 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso +1 lap
11 Gutierrez, Sauber +1 lap
12 Hamilton, Mercedes +1 lap
13 Sutil, Force India +1 lap
14 Maldonado, Williams +1 lap
15 Hulkenberg, Sauber +1 lap
16 Bottas, Williams +1 lap
17 Pic, Caterham +1 lap
18 Bianchi, Marussia +2 laps
19 Chilton, Marussia +2 laps
20 Verge, Toro Rosso 52 laps
21 Van der Garde, Caterham 21 laps
22 Grosjean, Lotus 8 laps
Sebastian Vettel, Germany 89 pts
Kimi Raikkonen, Finland 85
Fernando Alonso, Spain 72
Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 50
Felipe Massa, Brazil 45
Mark Webber, Australia 42
Remain Grosjean, France 26
Paul di Resta, Great Britain 26
Nico Rosberg, Germany 22
Jenson Button, Great Britain 17
Sergio Perez, Mexico 12
Daniel Ricciardo, Australia 7
Adrian Sutil, Germany 6
Nico Hulkenberg, Germany 5
Jean-Eric Vergne, France 1
Charles Pic, France 0
Jules Bianchi, France 0
Giedo van der Garde, Holland 0
Esteban Gutierrez, Mexico 0
Valtteri Bottas, Finland 0
Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela 0
Max Chilton, Great Britain 0
Red Bull Racing 131 pts
Mercedes GP 72
Force India-Mercedes 23
Toro Rosso-Ferrari 8