BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Fernando Alonso won the Spanish Grand Prix by nearly 10 seconds in a dominant performance in front of his home fans on Sunday to close the gap on championship leader Sebastian Vettel and get back in the Formula One title race.
Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen finished second for the third straight race, with Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third as most drivers chose a four-stop strategy due to ongoing problem with Pirelli’s fast-degrading tires. That issue remains a big concern as tires still shred far too easily despite pre-race modifications.
Starting from fifth place, Alonso won his second race this season, showing that Ferrari can challenge Red Bull for pure speed. Alonso was easily quicker than Vettel, with the three-time defending champion finishing 38.2 seconds behind in fourth ahead of teammate Mark Webber.
“In the four years with Ferrari this is the best (car) we’ve had,” Alonso said. “I realized the race was in our pockets if we don’t do mistakes.”
He climbed on top of his Ferrari and waved a Spanish flag gleefully as he encouraged applause from the fans, who broke into chants of “Alonso, Alonso.”
It was Alonso’s second win in Barcelona — the first coming in 2006 — and his seventh career podium on the Circuit de Catalunya.
“It’s very special winning at home and it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat it,” Alonso said. “Very long last laps because you want to finish as quickly as possible. Difficult qualifying as we were not too quick yesterday but we knew we had the pace on the long runs. We did it and everything worked perfect.”
More importantly, the two-time former champion closed the gap on Vettel from 30 to 17 points, moving up to third overall. Raikkonen is only four points behind Vettel, who leads with 89 after five races.
“We have to just take what we can from every race,” said Raikkonen, who was 9.3 seconds behind Alonso. “We just have to keep working as a team to achieve the biggest goal we can.”
Massa’s performance was arguably even better than Alonso’s, as he started from ninth due to a grid penalty in qualifying.
“I was a little disappointed after qualifying, but the race was very good, we were very aggressive,” Massa said. “I think we are in the right direction so I hope from now on we are fighting for the podium in every race.”
Mercedes had a disappointing day after Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton started on the front grid. As has been the case this season, the Mercedes cars — which are fast in qualifying — again lacked race pace and durability as Rosberg finished sixth and Hamilton drifted back to 12th and was a lap off the pace.
“We have just got a lot to do to catch up with the others, but we will get there,” Hamilton said.
He made a terrible start as Vettel flew past him at the first corner and Alonso found a small gap to surge past Raikkonen on turn one and then past Hamilton on the outside of turn three to move quickly into third.
Rosberg held on at the front as Massa quickly climbed from ninth to sixth and Grosjean went the other way.
Jenson Button’s miserable weekend looked set to continue as he drifted from 14th to 17th, although he salvaged some pride with a credible eighth-place finish, holding off a late surge from teammate Sergio Perez to finish behind Paul di Resta.
“Turn one was a mess so to finish eighth probably wasn’t too bad,” Button said. “But there is a lot of work still to do.”
Grosjean had been optimistic heading into the race after securing his first podium of the season with third place in Bahrain. But the Frenchman’s back wheels locked up early on and he had to pull out due to mechanical failure.
With fears over tire degradation prominent, drivers took early pit stops.
“At this rate, F1 is going to become a pit-stop contest with a few race laps thrown in,” Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 champion, said during television commentary. The issue was highlighted when strips of rubber started flying off Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso less than 40 laps into the race. He retired late on.
With a third of the race gone, Ferrari’s pace was unrelenting and Alonso led Vettel by four seconds before pitting for the second time.
Raikkonen won the season-opening Australian GP on a three-stop strategy but the Finn lost time the longer he stayed on the older tires.
Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde’s left rear wheel came off entirely and he also had to retire.
It was a busy afternoon in the pits as Sauber released Nico Hulkenberg too early and he bumped into the back of a Toro Rosso and with Pastor Maldonado — last year’s surprise winner — pitting in the wrong place.