Sebastian Vettel has resisted race-long pressure to take victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, his fourth win of the season. The German finished just 0.6 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the end of the 66-lap race, 50 years to the day since Wolfgang von Trips became the first-ever German to win a championship race.
While much of the field opted for a four-stop strategy to counter the vagaries of Pirelli’s vastly different tyre compounds, Jenson Button was among the few who bucked the trend to make a three-stop strategy work, and he finished third after a poor start saw him down to tenth at the end of the first lap.
Pole-sitter Mark Webber was a disappointing fourth, and Fernando Alonso finished a lap behind in fifth, despite enjoying a popular lead during the first two stints of the race.
With the previous ten races having been won here from pole position, Webber’s hopes of continuing that statistic were challenged when he made a less-than-brilliant getaway off the line. Fellow front-row starter Vettel was quickly in his tow, and as the two Red Bull’s squabbled for track position, Alonso dived up the inside to take the lead in front of an ecstatic home crowd. Vettel slipped past into second, while Hamilton managed to get in front of Webber and take third.
The top-four ran in close company during the opening phase of the race, and despite the chasing trio being quicker than him over an entire lap, Alonso’s Ferrari was well set up to give him good traction out of the final corner and onto the main straight.
Despite the opportunity for his rivals to use both KERS and their DRS, both would prove ineffective at getting past him during this time, and indeed the Circuit de Catalunya continued to maintain its reputation of being a poor circuit for overtaking despite these new rules designed to increase overtaking.
Granted, there was some passing, although this was generally confined to the very short straight between Turns 3 and 4, and along the circuit’s back straight. Concerns that the DRS zone here was too long – at over 900 metres – proved unfounded, and drivers were faced with a similar situation to the Australian Grand Prix in that the zone generally proved rather impotent in this case.
But back to the race, and Alonso managed to hold his lead for the first two stints of the race until his second pit stop.
Vettel took a gamble by pitting a lap earlier than Alonso for his first pit stop, but he emerged in traffic and – but for a dynamic out-lap that saw him pass three cars on his out-lap – was still unable to get by the Spaniard when he pitted a lap later.
Vettel’s second stint was for just seven laps, and this time it worked perfectly, allowing him to leapfrog Alonso and take a lead by dint of a better lap on fresher tyres. Alonso tried to respond and pitted on the next lap (with Webber right behind him), and it would get worse for the pair when Hamilton managed to vault past both of them when he pitted four laps later.
This then left Vettel and Hamilton to juke it out for the lead, while Alonso steadily fell back in third, keeping Webber tucked right under his rear wing. The two would again pit nose-to-tail for their third pit stops – emerging on the harder compounds this time – and their lack of pace was enough to allow Button to ease past into third.
Button was enjoying a very impressive race, taking a three-stop strategy after a poor start dropped him to tenth. Rather than concentrating on trying to run at outright pace on the softer tyres, the Briton instead ran at a targeted lap time about 1-1.5 seconds slower and used his lower wear rates to eke out a greater running distance on each set.
Webber finally managed to get past Alonso at their fourth pit stop, although this time managing the effort by staying out eight laps longer than the Ferrari, which was now rapidly losing pace as Alonso steadily lost grip in his tyres. Late in the race, Alonso was lapped – a sharp contrast to his track position just an hour before…
Up at the front, Vettel was having to work ever harder to keep Hamilton at bay, with suggestions that his Red Bull’s troublesome KERS was again misbehaving. And while Hamilton would get close to Vettel, he was never close enough to have a go for the lead and repeat his heroics from the Chinese Grand Prix. Vettel won by a scant 0.6 seconds, and only four drivers finished on the same lap.
While never on the front-running pace, Mercedes GP enjoyed a solid points haul with Michael Schumacher finishing sixth, one place ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg. The pair enjoyed a race-long battle, with the seven-time World Champion keeping his margin over Nico by pitting earlier on each occasion, giving himself an extra lap on fresher rubber relative to his team-mate.
Having not run any tyres after missing out on qualifying, Nick Heidfeld staged a hugely impressive drive from the back of the grid to finish in eighth place, right under Rosberg’s rear wing. The German enjoyed the choice of plenty of fresh sets of Pirelli rubber and made them work to great effect, which was a sharp contrast to team-mate Vitaly Petrov, who finished outside the points in eleventh after starting in sixth place.
The two Saubers rounded out the points, with Sergio Pérez finishing in ninth to take his first championship points, while team-mate Kamui Kobayashi charged hard and took the final point after pitting at the end of the opening lap with a left-rear puncture.
Twelfth place went to Paul di Resta, who ran as high as fifth in his long opening stint on harder tyres, but his Force India simply didn’t have the outright pace to turn that into points this weekend. Nonetheless, it was another impressive performance from the rookie Scot, who again outdid team-mate Adrian Sutil, who finished a place further behind.
After momentarily running in the points in the opening laps, Sébastien Buemi finished 14th and a lap behind, just ahead of Williams’ Pastor Maldonado, who tried to savage the Swiss driver’s car with an ambitious lunge on his Toro Rosso on the last lap.
It was another poor race for the Williams team, with Maldonado’s top-ten heroics in qualifying a distant memory after he quickly dropped to the midfield and stayed there. Team-mate Rubens Barrichello – like Heidfeld – had plenty of tyres, but seemingly not the pace to take advantage of them, and he finished an anonymous 17th, behind Jaime Alguersuari, who had a quiet run to 16th.
Jarno Trulli finished 18th for Team Lotus and showed his and the team’s best race pace yet. A good start for the Italian had him running ahead of team-mate Heikki Kovalainen all race, and a long first stint for the pair of them saw them running in the points for a while until they pitted. It was Trulli’s most competitive showing of the season, while Kovalainen ended his race when he crashed out at Turn 4.
The two Virgin Racing entries and HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan completed the final runners.
Felipe Massa was one of just three retirees, with the Brazilian sliding into the gravel with a few laps to go after a generally insipid race that saw him struggling with rear grip in his Ferrari.
2011 Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (66 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||66||1:39:03.301|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||66||+ 0.630|
|3.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||66||+ 35.697|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||66||+ 49.966|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||65||1 lap behind|
|6.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||65||1 lap behind|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||65||1 lap behind|
|8.||Nick Heidfeld||Lotus Renault GP R31||65||1 lap behind|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||65||1 lap behind|
|10.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||65||1 lap behind|
|11.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||65||1 lap behind|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||65||1 lap behind|
|13.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||65||1 lap behind|
|14.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||65||1 lap behind|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||65||1 lap behind|
|16.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||65||1 lap behind|
|17.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||64||2 laps behind|
|18.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||64||2 laps behind|
|19.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||63||3 laps behind|
|20.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||63||3 laps behind|
|21.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||62||4 laps behind|
|DNF.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||59||Accident|
|DNF.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||48||Accident|
|DNF.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||28||Mechanical|
|Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||1:26.727|
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