Mark Webber cruised to an imperious victory in the Spanish Grand Prix while local hero Fernando Alonso took advantage of his opponents’ woes to reward his fans with a fortunate second place.
Running fourth for most of the race, he gained third when Sebastian Vettel was forced into the pits by wheel problems and inherited the runner-up spot when Lewis Hamilton suffered a sudden and terminal puncture on the penultimate lap.
The result leaves fifth-place Jenson Button still leading the drivers’ world championship, but only by three points from Alonso. McLaren have a narrow edge over Ferrari and Red Bull in the constructors’ hunt.
A delighted Webber said he was “absolutely wrapped” about the result: “It was an important part of the race to get out of turn one in the lead. It was quite tight into there, then I settled into a rhythm, looking after the tyres in the first stint.
“Then a clean pitstop, after which I had Lewis behind, so I controlled the gap, needing to get the car home. When I saw that Lewis was in traffic I did some quick laps to open up the gap.”
Hamilton said: “I’m absolutely gutted that my accident happened so close to the finish of the race – but that’s motor racing.
“I was looking good to split the Red Bulls, and it would have been perfect for us in both world championships if I could have finished second this afternoon.
“I was just nursing the car to the finish line, then I suddenly felt the steering go, and then there was immediately a failure on the left-front corner.
“I didn’t sense anything odd before the accident – the car was feeling great – so that’s why it was such a surprise. We don’t know what went wrong.”
The winner of the race was settled at the start as Webber fended off a challenge from Red Bull team-mate Vettel and the pair then fanned out to prevent Alonso and McLaren’s Hamilton passing on either side.
With Button and Michael Schumacher slotting in behind them, the top six settled down in the same positions they had qualified to wait for the pit stops.
With on-track passing at a minimum, these proved more important than has often been the case this season – and they did not go as planned for everyone.
Vettel lost second place to Hamilton thanks to a delay in his stop while a dragging clutch in Button’s dropped him behind Schumacher, where he stayed for the rest of the race despite repeated attempts to get past the multiple world champion.
He said: “It’s almost impossible to overtake around here, and Michael was moving about a bit to make sure I couldn’t get past. That was frustrating because the pace of my car was really good this afternoon, but that doesn’t make any difference if you can’t overtake.
“I was trying so hard to get past that I damaged my tyres quite a bit. I flat-spotted a front and hurt the rears under traction. Fifth wasn’t the result we’d wanted, and it wasn’t the result we really deserved either because we were pretty quick.”
With the rest of the front of the field spread out and Webber setting a series of fastest laps, it looked like the second half of the race would be a clear run to the finish without further developments.
The only on-track action came from Nico Rosberg, mired down the field after an off-track adventure at the start and a pitstop during which he was released before a wheel had been properly tightened and had to be pushed back for another try.
A second pitstop gave him an advantage in tyres over the rest of the lower midfield and he caught and passed Nico Hulkenberg and Vitantonio Liuzzi in the closing laps.
Meanwhile, at the front, the final 10 laps proved more interesting than most of the previous 55 as Vettel’s car began to fall apart around him.
First he ran through the gravel and, faced with what was thought to be a wheel-hub problem, pitted abruptly in case he found himself suddenly driving a tricycle. No sooner did he return to the track, having lost just one place, than he was told his brakes could fail at any moment.
With a decent gap to Schumacher – who had survived the attentions of Button as the Englishman’s tyres deteriorated under the strain of their battle – Vettel was repeatedly urged to drive slower by his garage to ensure he safely reached the chequered flag.
And he was handed an unexpected bonus with just one full lap to go when Hamilton suffered a sudden and dramatic puncture, sending him careering into the tyre wall and out of the race.
This promoted Alonso, Vettel, Schumacher and Button to second through to fifth places, and handed the rest of the points to Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil, Robert Kubica, Rubens Barrichello and Jaime Alguersuari.
Results of the Spanish Grand Prix
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:35:44 (25 points)
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: +00:24 (18 points)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: +00:51 (15 points)
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: +01:02 (12 points)
- Jenson Button, McLaren: +01:03 (10 points)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: +01:05 (8 points)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: +01:12 (6 points)
- Robert Kubica, Renault: +01:13 (4 points)
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: +01:13 (2 points)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: +1 lap (1 point)
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: +1 lap
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: +1 lap
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: +1 lap
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: crashed after 64 laps
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: retired after 64 laps
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: +1 lap
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus: +1 lap
- Timo Glock, Virgin: +1 lap
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: +1 lap
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: retired after 42 laps
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: retired after 27 laps
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: retired after 18 laps
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: crashed on first lap
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: did not start race
Fastest lap of the race: Lewis Hamilton on 1:24.357
Points-scorers only are shown.
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 70 points
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 67 points
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 60 points
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 53 points
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 50 points
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 49 points
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 49 points
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 44 points
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 22 points
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 16 points
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 8 points
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 7 points
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 6 points
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 3 points
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1 point
Points-scorers only are shown.
- McLaren: 119 points
- Ferrari: 116 points
- Red Bull: 113 points
- Mercedes GP: 72 points
- Renault: 50 points
- Force India: 24 points
- Williams: 8 points
- Toro Rosso: 3 points