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A Tyred Formula?

ROUND 5 – Spain, 12 May 2013, Barcelona

1st: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 1hr 39m 16.596s (av. race speed 185.605 km/h)
2nd: Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault), gap: 9.338s
3rd: Felipe Massa (Ferrari), gap: 26.049s

Fastest Lap: Esteban Gutiérrez (Sauber Ferrari), 1:26.217 = 194.370 km/h on lap 56
Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 1:20.718 = 207.611 km/h


A tyred formula?

Fernando Alonso won the Spanish Grand Prix for the first time since 2006 for Ferrari, his third victory on home soil including last year’s European Grand Prix at Valencia. Alonso, 32, now has 32 F1 victories, putting him fourth on the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Asked if he could catch any of those great names, Alonso said he would settle for lots more second places if it meant more championships...

With Kimi Raïkkönen second for Lotus Renault and Felipe Massa third in the second Ferrari, Alonso now lies third overall on 72 points. Red Bull Renault’s Sebastian Vettel still leads the title race on 89 points after finishing a distant fourth, with Raïkkönen second on 85. “It’s very special winning at home,” the Spaniard acknowledged. “It doesn’t matter how many times you can do it, how many you repeat it, it’s always like starting from zero and you have again very emotional last laps, very long last laps because you want to finish obviously as soon as possible.”

Alonso, only fifth in qualifying, produced a hallmark round-the-outside move on Turn 3 to sweep into second place on the opening lap, a move that would prove decisive as pole-sitter Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes was soon going backwards. But only when the Ferrari man pitted for the fourth and final time and emerged ahead of Raïkkönen, who was stopping one time fewer, did he feel he had it in the bag.

So the key to a sustained title challenge by Alonso – never yet world champion in a scarlet car – is keeping the car at its Sunday best. “Definitely on Sundays it’s a very competitive team package, let’s say. We are not the quickest over one lap, maybe we don’t set the fastest time in the race but we have fantastic strategy people, fantastic pitstops, the starts, tyre degradation. We have many ingredients to have a competitive car to fight for the championship.”

As usual Raïkkönen was less than thrilled with second place on a day that saw teammate Romain Grosjean retire early with an unexplained right rear suspension failure. “When we were on old tyres and he had newer tyres, it’s too easy to overtake,” said Raïkkönen, highlighting the central issue in F1 2013-style.

With more than 80 pit stops in the 66-lap race Pirelli acknowledged that there is still work to do to get the P Zero tyres’ performance-durability equation right. “Our aim is to have between two and three stops at every race, so it’s clear that four is too many: in fact, it’s only happened once before, in Turkey during our first year in the sport,” said the company’s Paul Hembery. “We’ll be looking to make some changes, in time for Silverstone, to make sure that we maintain our target and solve any issues rapidly.”

Alonso himself weighed into the debate when asked if this number of stops makes the spectacle too bewildering for fans to follow. “There is no doubt,” he said simply. “I think it is impossible to follow one race now. Here it’s good because you have the tower and I think you follow the race on the tower with the numbers and you see who is first, who is second. But in some other circuits, if I’m sitting in the grandstand, without any information: radio, telephone or something, you only see cars passing.”

One car which did its fair share of passing was Massa’s Ferrari as the Brazilian again suggested his 2008 form is back – despite a three-place grid penalty for baulking Mark Webber’s Red Bull in qualifying. “Very aggressive straight away,” said Massa of his race performance. “I gained back the positions. I think maybe in the first lap I was already sixth, then overtaking cars. Struggling a bit with the tyres, to make it survive every stint in a good way but I think the race was very good for us.”

As for Webber, the Australian started seventh after a poor Q3 and again compromised his race by dropping like a stone to be 13th after one lap. In the circumstances a fight-back to fifth was a reasonable return from a difficult day. “We were struggling for the range and a bit of pace today, to be honest,” said Webber. “The Ferraris and the Lotus were in a bit of a different league and that made it hard for us to compete today. If you don’t have the pace, then you can’t have the magic strategy.”


Other talking-points

Compatriot Dan Ricciardo claimed a second points-scoring finish of 2013 for Toro Rosso in 10th despite a poor start of his own. “It was disappointing to lose ground like that, but the pace itself was not too bad,” he said. “At the first stop, we made quite a few changes in terms of wing settings and tyre pressures and that helped, so the next two stints were quite good and I made a few passing moves, so it was certainly not a boring race.”

McLaren’s much-anticipated upgrade package did little to improve their overall position. Out-qualified by Sergio Perez for the first time, Jenson Button came home one place ahead of the Mexican in eighth. “We can’t afford to damage the tyres to get past Jenson” was a coded message to avoid repeating their Bahrain battles.

The race’s major collision came in the pit lane with Nico Hülkenberg’s Sauber penalised for an unsafe release after colliding with Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. There was slightly better news for embattled rookie Esteban Gutiérrez in the other Sauber, though, as the Mexican claimed his own first ‘trophy’ with fastest race lap.


Next race: round 6, Monaco, May 26

It starts a day early: watch for a full Monte Carlo preview right here…

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