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Ferrari’s Alonso Enjoys ‘Special Feeling’ of Valencia Victory

Spain’s Fernando Alonso enjoyed the “special feeling” of victory in yesterday’s European Grand Prix at Valencia as he delighted the home crowd and took the lead in the Formula One drivers’ standings.

Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus came second, and Mercedes’s Michael Schumacher was third after 57 laps of the quayside street circuit in Spain. Ferrari’s Alonso, who started 11th on the grid, is the first repeat winner this season after seven different drivers won the first seven races in the calendar.

Two-time defending series champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, aiming for a third straight Valencia win, dominated the early part of the race but dropped out after 34 laps because of engine trouble. Lotus’s Romain Grosjean also withdrew, when in second, and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren exited the race in a collision just before the end when defending third spot.

Alonso said he was thrilled to win, a day after his country’s soccer players reached the semifinals of the European Championship by beating France. He described it as his “best win” in terms of emotions.

“I cannot put into words the special feeling of winning your home Grand Prix,” Alonso told reporters after the 29th win of his Formula One career and the first in Valencia. “This is a special team, Ferrari, with the grandstands full of Spanish flags and the fans in red. After the footballers won at Euro 2012, I am feeling very proud to be Spanish at the moment.”

Pole-sitter Vettel led from the start and his superior pace let him open up a 9.7-second gap on Hamilton, who started in second. On lap 10, Grosjean overtook Hamilton, who soon after made a pit stop, dropping temporarily to 12th.

New Tires

Vettel stayed out as drivers including Raikkonen and Williams’s Pastor Maldonado pitted, leaving the German still leading ahead of Grosjean. By the time Vettel did stop for new tires after 16 laps, he was able to rejoin the race in the lead.

Bruno Senna of Williams was involved in a high-speed spin after making contact with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi but managed to stay in the race. Senna was then penalized with a drive-through penalty for the incident.

Vettel continued to forge ahead of Grosjean, followed by Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen. By 25 laps Vettel had a 20-second advantage.

Hamilton was hurt by a slow pit stop involving the front jack, the latest in a series of such problems this season. That dropped him back to sixth.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso came together with Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham, damaging both their tires and putting Vergne out, and causing the safety car to come out as debris was cleared. A round of pit stops followed, and two-time world champion Alonso immediately overtook Grosjean after the safety car left to take second place, while Hamilton got past Raikkonen.

Vettel’s Exit

On lap 34 Vettel’s car lost power and exited the race, leaving Spain’s Alonso in the lead to the cheers of the home audience. He was followed by Grosjean, Hamilton and Raikkonen

“It’s a shame, we are not sure what happened. It is frustrating, we were en route to win the race,” Vettel told reporters. “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, a perfect pit stop, a perfect race.”

Grosjean then pulled out because of an alternator problem, leaving Alonso setting the pace with a 3.7-second lead, ahead of two other former world champions, Hamilton and Raikkonen.

In the closing moments of the race, Raikkonen went second after overtaking Hamilton, who then crashed out when Maldonado hit him as he tried to go past the Briton.

Schumacher Podium

Schumacher held off a late challenge by Red Bull’s Mark Webber to finish third, the German’s first podium since returning to the sport in 2010 after a three-year absence.

“I didn’t think about a podium, not even at the end of the race,” Schumacher said. “At the end I asked the guys where we finished and the boys told me third. I can’t believe that, I didn’t expect it.”

They were followed by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, Paul di Resta in the other Force India, and Jenson Button of McLaren. Then came Sergio Perez of Sauber and Maldonado, who ended 10th following the incident with Hamilton.

Alonso leads the drivers’ standings on 111 points, followed by Webber (91), Hamilton (88), Vettel (85), Nico Rosberg of Mercedes (75) and Raikkonen (73).

Red Bull is top of the constructors’ standings with 176, followed by McLaren (137), Lotus (126), Ferrari (122) and Mercedes (92).

The next event in the 20-race season is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 8.

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