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Alonso proves a point in Spain

2013-05-13 07:28

ON WAY TO A WIN: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (rear) and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel battle at Catalunya during the 2013 Spanish Formula 1 GP. Image: AFP


In China on the Thursday before proceedings got under way Fernando Alonso ventured that, in contemporary Formula 1 qualifying, position was no longer paramount; that tyre management – throughout the race weekend – could compensate for good rather than outstanding grid positions.

At that stage he had been out-qualified four times in a row by Felipe Massa, on course to become the first Alonso team mate to do so five times consecutively. Alonso had comprehensively out- raced the Brazilian during the period, adding credence to the Spaniard’s theory.

He qualified third in Shanghai (two slots ahead of Massa) and won the race after a sublime display of race management.


In Bahrain the Ferrari star suffered a DRS problem. Having challenged for the lead until the first round of tyre changes, subsequent stops to repair the issue dropped him way down the order, from where he fought back valiantly to eighth. That said: Sebastian Vettel, who started first, finished an unchallenged first to take his second win of the season for Red Bull Racing. His first? Also won from pole, although his Sepang Shenanigans are another story.

So, on to Spain on May 12, where Alonso’s belief would be severely tested by a circuit reckoned to be so rubber-destroying that contracted tyre supplier Pirelli specified its two hardest compounds (Medium and Hard) after suggestions from teams that the original combination (Soft/Hard) would likely result in five stops. That’s six sets of tyres for a race distance of 310km, or 50km per set.

That all drivers bar the bottom three chose to start on Mediums spoke volumes about the severity of the challenge. So crucial had grid position at the Catalunya Circuit been previously that in the past
16 years not once had the winner come from beyond the front row. In fact, in 2013, Pastor Maldonado won pole and went on to win for Williams – despite having scored no podiums before or since…


Thus, when Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton locked out the front row for Mercedes, it seemed all over bar the shouting; in fact, smug looks on the faces of Stuttgart’s top brass suggested a 1-2 was a foregone conclusion, even if not in that order given Hamilton apparent priority status. Said bosses had seemingly forgotten that in China and Bahrain the drivers had each taken pole but fell spectacularly as their rubber degraded faster than the rest.

Alonso, who parked fifth on the grid behind the two silver cars, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus would surely be hard-pushed to prove his point, even on home ground. On the grid he looked like a man on a mission, glaring straight ahead as his car was pushed to its slot, his focus not on the four cars ahead, but Turn 1.

Getting there first would hold the key, but from fifth?

Whatever, he took off like greased lightning and was up to third by the end of the first of 66 laps; then jumped Vettel – who had passed Hamilton on the initial charge to T1 to take second, then Rosberg on Lap 12 to take a lead he would not lose save for pit stop reshuffles – despite nursing a punctured tyre before making his fourth and final stop.


Alonso said afterwards: “After a far from easy qualifying, everything went perfectly: the start, the strategy, pit stops, tyre management. I had to make up some places at the start 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 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 outcome.”

Therein lay the key: Fernando had effectively decided to go for four stops and paced his rubber accordingly over the weekend. Where all others aimed for three with four-stop as Plan B, he drove like a man possessed, cognisant of the fact he would need to find at least 25sec over them – and saved tyres during the preliminaries to do so.

His main opponents – bar Kimi – wavered and paid the price with betwixt-and-between strategies that eventually mutated into four stops.


The Finn, known for his benign style, was pretty focused on three stops, and drove his race accordingly, gentle on his kit, whether metal or rubber. Massa, who was docked three grid slots to start ninth after allegedly blocking Mark Webber’s Red Bull in qualifying, also planned for four stops.

It showed: Felipe gained six positions to end third and would likely have given Ferrari a 1-2 but for what many considered a rather harsh penalty given the circumstances. Certainly he made no bones about his perceived injustice afterwards: “I'm disappointed because of what happened yesterday,” he said. “I didn't cause issues for” before adding “we're pushing hard to improve the car in qualifying (note) but we know we have a good car in the race (ditto).”

Vettel, on four stops, eventually finished fourth, 40sec behind the best red car and more than a dozen from Massa, perfectly illustrating how out-classed Red Bull was on Sunday despite generally being accepted as the fastest car around.  That Webber finished only 10sec behind Vettel in fifth in the same car despite starting seventh to the German’s third somehow amplified the extent of Vettel’s tyre woes.


“I think we can be happy with fourth - or at least we have to be,” the triple champion summarised his race. “The first three cars were a little too fast for us and in looking after their tyres they did a better job today.”

Sixth went to Rosberg, further illustrating how harsh the Mercedes are on their (rear) rubber – Hamilton eventually came 12th…  with Paul di Resta holding his own for Force India in seventh. Eighth and ninth went to the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez respectively – and even here tyre management was key...

The former, who nurses his rubber, started 14th; the latter ninth, with the Mexican after the race moved to say: “I think we are paying for doing laps in Q3,” adding “We gained positions but in the end, towards the end of the race, we lost quite a lot. Doing a few laps in Q3 really affected us today.”

Tenth, the final points place, went to Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), the Australian being another recognised to have a deft touch.

That was the story of the season’s fifth race: go hell for leather or be conservative, but compromise had no place. It could be said that slowing cars to ensure victory is not GP racing in its purest form, but it never has been pure.

For more than 60 years now teams and drivers have been required to make the best of their equipment on the day and in Spain that accolade belonged to Alonso. He drove his Ferrari slowly enough to win hands down after 66 laps.

Never was taking it easy more difficult.

Result from the 2013 Spanish Formula 1 GP at Catalunya
1 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1hr39min16.596
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus +9.338sec
3 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 26.049
4 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 38.273
5 Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull 47.963
6 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min08.020
7 Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India 1min08.988
8 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min19.506
9 Sergio Perez (Mexico) McLaren 1min21.738
10 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso 1 lap
11 Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber 1 lap
12 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1 lap
13 Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India 1 lap
14 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams 1 lap
15 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Sauber 1 lap
16 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1 lap
17 Charles Pic (France) Caterham 1 lap
18 Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia 2 laps
19 Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia 2 laps

Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 14 laps
Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham 45 laps
Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 58 laps

Fastest lap: Esteban Gutierrez, 1min26.217, lap 56.

Drivers' and Constructors’ standings

1 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull - 89
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - 85
3 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari - 72
4 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 50
5 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari - 45
6 Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull - 42
7 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - 26
8 Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India - 26
9 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes - 22
10 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren - 17
11 Sergio Perez (Mexico) McLaren - 12
12 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso - 7
13 Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - 6
14 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Sauber - 5
15 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - 1
16= Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber, Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams, Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams, Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia, Charles Pic (France) Caterham, Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham, Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia - 0

1 Red Bull - 131
2 Ferrari - 117
3 Lotus - 111
4 Mercedes 72
5 Force India - 32
6 McLaren - 29
7 Toro Rosso - 8
8 Sauber - 5
9= Marussia, Caterham, Williams - 0

Read more on:    grand prix  |  2013  |  formula 1  |  barcelona  |  spain  |  motor racing

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