The Spanish crowd got what they wanted today at the Catalunya circuit, as Fernando Alonso drove brilliantly to secure his first win here in Barcelona since 2006. Adding to the delight in the Prancing Horse garage, Felipe Massa made sure that two Ferrari drivers were on the podium for the first time this season with a fantastic drive from a grid-penalised ninth place to third at the end of the 66 laps. Splitting the two men in red was the Flying Finn, Kimi Raikkonen. The result means the Scuderia overtakes Lotus to go second in the Constructors’ championship, 14 points behind Red Bull. Today’s winner moves up one place to third in the Drivers’ classification, while his team-mate overtakes Webber to go from sixth to fifth.
The race got underway in front of a 94,000 crowd and both Ferraris made excellent starts, Fernando getting up to third and Felipe to seventh and on lap 2, Felipe set the fastest lap as he passed Perez in the McLaren for sixth. Rosberg had maintained his pole advantage but Vettel got his Red Bull ahead of Hamilton in the other Mercedes at the start to be second, so that Hamilton and Raikkonen in the Lotus were fourth and fifth ahead of Felipe, who by lap 3 led Perez by 1.5s. Fernando was 0.6 behind the reigning world champion Vettel.
By lap 5 the leading trio were nose to tail, while Felipe was now closing on Raikkonen so that these two and fourth placed Hamilton were also in a tight little group, until the Finn passed the Englishman for fourth on lap 7, leaving Felipe glued to the Mercedes gearbox. On the next lap, the Brazilian swept past Hamilton to be fifth, until he and Sutil, Maldonaldo, Hulkenberg and Grosjean all pitted. Fernando came in on lap 9, along with Hamilton, Di Resta, Gutierez, Vergne, Van der Garde and Bottas, as Grosjean in the Lotus posted the first retirement.
On lap 10, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Perez and Ricciardo also pitted. Last year’s winner here, Maldonado in the Williams was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane, when Button was one of the last to stop for McLaren on lap 11, although Gutierrez led, having not yet pitted the Sauber. The run of stops produced a second key moment after the start as Fernando get the jump on Vettel and the partisan crowd went absolutely wild when the Spaniard shot past Rosberg to take what would be the lead once the Sauber pitted. Vettel and Felipe both passed Rosberg too so that when Gutierrez finally changed tyres, the order on lap 13 was Fernando, Vettel, Felipe, Rosberg, Raikkonen and Webber in sixth.
By lap 18, Fernando had a 3 second lead over Vettel who in turn had Felipe 1.8 behind him, with the Brazilian having 1.5 in hand over Raikkonen, but then the Brazilian began to struggle and so made his second tyre change on lap 20, as did Webber and Vergne. Fernando came in on the next lap. Felipe flew past a couple of cars with another fastest lap to be fifth behind his team-mate on lap 22, at which point Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg were the lead trio having only stopped once, with the Red Bull being around 14 seconds ahead of Fernando. But then the Spaniard put the hammer down and reduced that gap to just 10 seconds in one lap! Lap 24 and Vettel made his second stop, as did Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso who had got up to sixth.
When Raikkonen made his second stop on lap 26, the Prancing Horse duo were again back in the lead, 7 seconds apart, with Vettel 8.2 behind Felipe. Then came Raikkonen, with Webber back in fifth in the other Red Bull, as Rosberg made his second stop. Vettel’s mirrors were full of Lotus, as Fernando extended his lead over his team-mate to 11.2 with Vettel and Raikkonen now banging wheels in a thrilling duel for third, which went in the Finn’s favour at half-distance on lap 33 as the Lotus began to close the gap to Felipe.
On lap 36, both Ferraris pitted and that meant the lead quintet on lap 37 was Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Di Resta, but two laps later, Felipe was back in third as Vettel made his third stop, with Fernando having dispensed with Raikkonen on the main straight on lap 38 to retake the lead. The Brazilian was lapping over a second faster than the Lotus man and by lap 44 he had closed the gap to second place to 7.3s and inevitably Raikkonen pitted on lap 45, leaving the two F138s at the head of the field again with 20 laps to go.
Lap 49 was when the race was won, as Fernando made his fourth and final tyre change to run the Hard tyre to the flag. The Spaniard had enough of an advantage to still lead, by 5.5 seconds from Felipe, with Raikkonen only a further 2.4 behind in third. Vettel was fourth. Felipe’s final pit stop was on lap 51, and he was followed down pit lane by Vettel. Raikkonen who all season has shown how kind his car has been on tyres, was on a three stopper, but with Fernando maintaining the lead, even though stopping one more time, the Lotus strategy was not going to be effective enough. On fresher rubber, for a time there was hope that Felipe might be able to close down Raikkonen, but it was not to be and in the closing stages, both Ferraristi managed their F138s to the flag and scenes of jubilation in the packed grandstands, as Fernando arrived in parc ferme having done his cooling down lap clutching a Spanish flag in the cockpit. Now the F1 circus heads to Monaco for Round 6 in a fortnight’s time and a race that Fernando has won twice before.
Stefano Domenicali: “I am really happy with this great team result! We did a great job, both here at the track and back in Maranello. It was a very tense race, in which the slightest little detail could make a big difference. On this front, we read the race very well, when one considers how tyre management and calling the pit stops today made the difference and I can say without being presumptuous, that the team of engineers didn’t put a foot wrong. I think that is down to Pat Fry, even he wasn’t with us today on the pit-wall. These forty points taken in Barcelona are very important: Fernando yet again drove a great race, aggressive at the key moments and conservative when he had to manage his lead, making up ground on all his main rivals. I’m pleased we have closed the gap to all our closest rivals. I am also particularly happy with Felipe’s performance, because on this track, to start ninth and finish on the podium is not easy. He was in the fight right to the final moments and this result is very well deserved. After the way qualifying went yesterday, this result is the best we could have hoped for. We held our own against very strong opposition, but we know there is much to do to improve our car for Saturday afternoons, as we have said many times before, if we want to ensure we start from further up the order”.
Fernando Alonso: “Even if this is the third time I’ve won a home race, the emotion is still very strong, as if it had never happened before. It’s nice to be able to give the whole of Spain this win, especially at a time when the country is in crisis and for many people, it’s not possible to come here to bring their support. I thank everyone for that support and the team for doing a fantastic job. After a far from easy qualifying, everything went perfectly, the start, the strategy, pit stops, tyre management. At the start, I had to make up some places but after passing the halfway point on the straight, there was no more room to do so. So I switched off the KERS, so as to use it in Turn 3, where I realised, after watching the GP2 race, that it was possible to attack around the outside. We had to bring forward the final stop because of a slow puncture which meant the left rear tyre was losing pressure in the final part of the lap, but fortunately, that had no effect on the final outcome. I think that with this car we can fight for the World Championship, because in five races we have finished second once and had two wins. From now on, we must manage to produce a consistent performance and score as many points as possible because we are well aware that we are not the quickest and to change that many people are working night and day at the track and in Maranello”.
Felipe Massa: “I am very happy with this podium. It was a really nice race and a fantastic result for the whole team. When you start from far back everything’s more complicated, but I managed to get away well and I immediately had a fantastic pace. On the first lap I pulled off a few overtaking moves thanks to the car being very competitive, which meant I could be aggressive, while at the same time looking after the tyres. Right to the very end, I thought it might be possible to fight with Kimi, but when I fitted my last set of Hard tyres, the ones we thought would be best as they were new, I had oversteer and began to lose the rear much earlier than I had expected. All the same, I am very pleased with our performance at this track. Now we head for Monaco, a completely different track where overtaking is very difficult. We know we don’t have the quickest car, but all we can do is continue to work with the same amount of effort, because I’m sure we are going in the right direction”.