Fernando Alonso thrilled the Spanish crowd with a popular win on home ground in the European Grand Prix at Valencia last weekend.
The Ferrari driver charged to victory from 11th on the grid. Alonso now has 29 F1 wins to his name but this one surely ranked as one of his best. A string of great passes, excellent work by the Ferrari pit crew and Alonso’s steely resolve in the closing laps as his tyres started to go off added up to a first-rate triumph.
Alonso’s success gave him a 20-point lead in the drivers’ championship. His odds of winning it have been cut to 2.40.
But Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo warned the team they must redouble their efforts to ensure they remain competitive in the coming races: “I am worried, because I expect three very tough races at Silverstone, Hockenheim and Budapest. We have seen that Red Bull is very strong, having had four tenths in hand over everyone in qualifying and in the race it was flying away, at least until the Safety Car.”
The threat from Vettel
The cause for Montezemolo’s alarm is clear: for more than half the race Sebastian Vettel led as he pleased, with more than 20 seconds in hand over his closest pursuer at one point.
Vettel seemed on course for a third consecutive win on the streets of Valencia before his Red Bull RB8 succumbed to a rare failure, opening the door for Alonso.
Red Bull have substantially reworked the rear end of their car in recent races. Extensive changes to the bodywork around its exhausts exits has been aimed at funnelling the hot gasses towards its downforce-generating diffuser to recreate some of the performance lost due to rules changes over the winter.
It seems to be working; Red Bull are on a discernible upward trajectory with four pole positions in the last five races. Vettel’s championship odds are now rated at 3.50.
Small wonder, then, that alarm bells are ringing at Ferrari despite their latest triumph.
Lotus challenge fades in Valencia
In the run-up to the European Grand Prix I tipped Lotus to clinch victory. They came close but not quite close enough.
Romain Grosjean drove an impressive race. He picked off Pastor Maldonado on the first lap for third, before hounding Lewis Hamilton around the opening ten laps and prising second place off the McLaren driver.
Grosjean also had no answer for Vettel’s pace. After the Red Bull driver dropped out of the race, Grosjean was no longer in a position to capitalise – he’d been mugged for second by an inspired Fernando Alonso at the restart. Nonetheless, Grosjean continued to hound Alonso until, like Vettel, he retired when the alternator on his Renault engine overheated.
That left team mate Kimi Raikkonen to take second place. Raikkonen had also run ahead of Alonso in the opening stages, but fell back after a slow pit stop.
Not for the first time this year Lotus left a race weekend ruing a lost chance at winning a Grand Prix. But they still have a competitive car in the E20, two drivers who look capable of winning, and a dozen more chances to get it right.
It’s been 25 years since a Lotus last won an F1 race, but that may well change before the year is over.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula 1 blog F1 Fanatic.