x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Valencia's street circuit springs a surprise this time around

Pastor Maldonado and Jean-Eric Vergne receive penalties from the FIA for their parts in crashes with Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, respectively.

A faulty alternator made it a short day of work for Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel in the European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia.
A faulty alternator made it a short day of work for Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel in the European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia.

VALENCIA // If the Valencia Street Circuit wanted to prove its worth to Formula One, its beleaguered European Grand Prix could have offered little more.

Traditionally the dullest race on the sport's calendar, Sunday's 57-lap thriller provided tears, drama and controversy.

And the biggest points swing of the season in the race for the world championship.

Take Sebastian Vettel's first retirement since suffering a punctured tyre at Yas Marina Circuit in November, add Romain Grosjean's forced exit moments later with an identical problem and mix with Lewis Hamilton's race-ending collision with Pastor Maldonado. The result is a delighted Fernando Alonso, who went from trailing by two points in the drivers' standings to leading by 20.

Vettel, Red Bull Racing's world champion, had held a comfortable lead after maximising his car's potential from pole position. Yet, with 35 laps gone and a safety car having nullified his advantage, the German's alternator failed and both his RB8 and his championship challenge slowed to a stop.

"At the moment, it's not entirely clear what the problem was," Vettel said Sunday night.

"I lost acceleration, the engine stalled and I couldn't do anything; that was it. You can't change it now. Up until that point, it was clear we were strong, I was very happy in the car and had the pace. We were very quick and it felt good."

Grosjean, yet to win in Formula One but having impressed this season after joining Lotus during the off-season, was running in second and closing the gap on Alonso when, similarly to Vettel, on lap 41 the Frenchman's alternator failed.

Both Vettel's and Grosjean's alternators were manufactured by Renault, who confirmed they would investigate the issue.

"Basically, the car lost power and switched off," Grosjean said. "I couldn't even call my engineer on the radio as the radio was dead. The race was almost perfect up until that point: we had a good start and a good strategy. I don't think we were that far from our first win. Unfortunately fate decided otherwise."

Hamilton and Maldonado were summoned to the race stewards' office post-race for a penultimate-lap collision that ended the Briton's race and dropped Williams's Venezuelan driver to 10th.

The FIA, motorsports' governing body, dealt Maldonado a 20-second time penalty for failing to rejoin the track in a safe manner. Hamilton - who had thrown his steering wheel out of his car after crashing into a wall - refused to speak to print media.

He did, however, tell Sky Sports: "I don't really know what happened, if I'm honest," Hamilton said. "I went into the corner and I didn't come out. It happened so fast, I really do not remember what happened.

"All I remember is sitting in the wall with only a lap to go."

The FIA also handed Jean-Eric Vergne, the Toro Rosso rookie whose collision with Heikki Kovalainen produced the safety car, a severe double punishment.

The Frenchman was handed a 10-place grid penalty for the British Grand Prix in two weeks' time, as well as a €25,000 (Dh115,000) fine.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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