| Fernando Alonso celebrates in Valencia, on Sunday. (Getty Images) |
Valencia: Fernando Alonso of Ferrari won an incident-filled European Grand Prix on Sunday to become the first driver to win two races this season, while Michael Schumacher earned a first podium finish since his comeback by coming third.
Alonso thus moved to the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ world championship standings after winning a thrilling race.
The Ferrari driver becomes the first to win two races this season, but did so in astonishing circumstances after leader Sebastian Vettel retired on lap 34.
The Spaniard picked up the win in his home country to take the lead in the drivers’ world championship after Lewis Hamilton crashed out with just a lap remaining.
Alonso, who last won the European Grand Prix in 2007, started the day 11th on the grid. It was a race that he had never been won from lower than third place.
It was a difficult day for Hamilton, who looked set for second place despite yet more pit-stop issues with the McLaren team. But with just a lap to go, he and Pastor Maldonado were embroiled in a battle for second which ended with Hamilton spinning into the wall and out of the race.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen finished second, while Michael Schumacher picked up his first podium since his comeback, finishing third, becoming the oldest podium finisher since Jack Brabham in 1970.
The Valencia Street Circuit has had its detractors before as host of the European Grand Prix, but there was more excitement in this one race than in the previous four combined.
For 28 laps that was hardly the case for Vettel as the German was in a world of his own, sailing off to what appeared to be a third consecutive victory.
But one bump of the wheels involving Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen and Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne turned the race on its head.
It resulted in a front-left puncture for Kovalainen and a rear-right for Vergne, the latter making a total hash of his return to the pits, leaving debris all over the track.
With rubber and carbon fibre everywhere it forced the safety car into play to allow the stewards to clear.
Unsurprisingly virtually all of the leaders made a second stop at that stage, with the exception of Vettel.
However, with a 20-second cushion over Lotus’ Romain Grosjean such was his dominance he had enough time in hand to wait for a lap and still emerge out in front.
When the safety car pitted after 33 laps Vettel again eased away, but just for one and a half laps as he ground to a halt, enduring only a second retirement in his last 29 races.
Attempting to explain, Vettel said: “I lost drive and I had to stop. Why? I don’t know. “There’s not much we could have done better, but with reliability we all work on the limit.
“Up to that point we had had a perfect start, perfect pit stop, a perfect race.
“We’ve made a good step and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the next Grand Prix.”
For the most part chaos had ensued at various stages over the first half of the race behind Vettel, with positional changes aplenty. At one point, with Vettel away and clear, sixth to 14th were covered by six seconds and it was akin to watching dodgems as they weaved their way around the track.
But Vergne’s misdemeanour changed everything, not least for Hamilton as a furious round of pit stops ensued with the safety car on track.
The team have made countless errors that have cost the 27-year-old this season, and on this occasion a front jack failure added to his woes, although there was worse to come later.