F1 Valencia Race Results & Report: Vettel Never Lets Go of the Lead, Alonso Fights to 2nd

What Happens When It’s Not Really a Contest

9:49am EST — Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 European Grand Prix, giving up his lead only during pit stops. Even with the DRS and Pirelli’s quickly degrading tires, there was little overtaking in the typically processional streets of Valencia. Fernando Alonso did provide some excitement in a lovely pass on Mark Webber to take second early on, though he would both lose and re-gain the position through pit stops. Webber completed the podium, with Lewis Hamilton fourth and Felipe Massa fifth. The Brazilian was a demon on the start, nearly taking second but losing position to his teammate on the outside. All twenty-four drivers completed the race, the most in the history of F1.

Vettel (1:36.975) started on pole, having set the fastest lap ever on the Valencia street circuit during Saturday’s qualifying session. He was forced to set two super fast laps in Q3, rather than his now-typical one, as teammate Webber had gone back out in the final minutes to move up from fourth. The German was able to abort his final lap as Webber was only fast enough to clinch the second starting position. Hamilton and Alonso started on the second row, with Massa and Button the third.

Three of the top four starters ended a practice session fastest, with Webber (1:40.403) taking first blood in Friday morning’s session, Alonso (1:37.968) during Friday afternoon, and Vettel (1:37.258) on Saturday morning. The sessions were relatively uneventful, with the only major incident coming Friday morning at the hands of Nico Hulkenburg. The Force India reserve driver lost control on the green track and slid the left side of Paul di Resta’s car along the wall, damaging the suspension so much that the Scot had less than ten minutes running time Friday afternoon.

Sunday, Valencia was as hot and sunny as it usually is, with the temperature at the start nearly as warm as the predicted high for the day. With the medium and soft tires available (instead of the super-softs), tire degradation would not be quite as quick in the heat.

On the start, Vettel kept the lead after a barely slower start than Webber. Alonso had to momentarily fight off teammate Massa as the Brazilian got a brilliant start to get around Hamilton. Massa actually made a move on Webber to the inside, allowing Alonso to go to the outside and keep third over his teammate. di Resta made some charging moves but was only able to move up to eleventh. At the end of the first lap, Vettel led Webber, Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Schumacher, Sutil, and Heidfeld. Vettel already had almost a second and a half by the end of the first lap.

Valencia looked to be it’s usual processional self after the start, though DRS was enabled on the third lap. Button looked to be ready to pounce on Rosberg in the second zone, but could not quite get to him. However, the closeness provided Button the ability to push Rosberg very hard. The two were providing possibly the most interesting battle on the track with five laps gone. Soon, though, Button made a beautiful late-braking maneouver on Rosberg through Turn 2 to take sixth, almost twelve seconds behind Vettel.

The leader maintained a nearly three second gap on Webber, who had less than a second on Alonso. Further back, Kobayashi attempted to make a diving move on Barrichello, but was unable to make the pass. Soon, Webber came under fire from Alonso after a slightly slower lap, though the Spaniard ran himself quite wide in into the paved runoff out of Turn 20.

After ten laps, the order had not changed much or often. Vettel still led Webber, with the latter three seconds behind his teammate. Alonso was third, another second back, with Massa just seven tenths ahead of Hamilton, who was fifth. Button, Rosberg, Schumacher, Sutil, and Heidfeld completed the top ten.

The midfield runners began to stop for the first time soon thereafter, with Maldonado, Heidfeld, Barrichello, and Kobayashi leading the way. Hamilton was the first of the top ten to pit, followed by Rosberg, then Sutil on L13. After their stops, Heidfeld passed Sutil. Webber came in on the next lap, returning to the track in fifth. Though Ferrari looked ready to service a driver, neither pitted on that lap with Webber. Vettel, though, was in for his first stop on L14, as was Alonso. Button, Schumacher, and di Resta followed.

Afterward, Schumacher damaged his front wing with contact with Petrov when he rejoined the circuit, forcing him to make another stop. Later, the incident came under investigation by the stewards. Massa next pitted from the lead, losing position to Hamilton along the way. That left Vettel leading Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, and Massa as the top five, sixteen laps into the race. Heidfeld made a brave move on Perez for tenth, as the Sauber driver next lost his position to Barrichello.

Alonso began to catch up Webber again, as the Red Bull was somewhat held up by the HRT of Karthikeyan. On L20, Liuzzi quite dramatically moved over for both Webber and Alonso out of Turn 20 and along the front straight. Vettel had just over two seconds on Webber, who had a rear mirror full of Alonso, who was less than a half second behind. Hamilton was nearly four seconds back, with Massa another five behind him.

Alonso took a dive up the inside of Webber, catching him into and through Turn 12, running a bit wide out of the turn to keep the Australian behind. Just before, Red Bull had communicated that he was running the rear a bit hot. At about the same time, race direction announced that there would be no penalties for the earlier Schumacher/Petrov incident. Hamilton pitted for the second time on L25, staying on the soft tires and having a bit of a bobble when he attempted to leave a bit early. Perez attempted to go for a one-stopper, going quite slowly as he ended his run twenty-six laps after the race started with his first stop.

The second set of stops for many drivers began around the halfway point, with Hamilton told to slow down a bit to save the tires after his race fast lap on the fresh tires. Webber pitted next on L29, rejoining in fourth on the softer tires. Hamilton did not listen well to his engineer, posting a second race fast lap on L29. Alonso pitted the next time around, losing position to Webber. Both went around as Maldonado came streaking back onto the track from a runoff area. Meanwhile, McLaren was insisting to Hamilton that his rear tires were quite hot. Hamilton responded, “I can’t go any slower!”

Vettel pitted on L3o, as did Button and Rosberg. Vettel maintained his lead, with Massa second and ahead of Webber. He went for the pass on Massa through the first DRS zone, leaving one Ferrari teammate to slightly hold up another. Massa sort of allowed Alonso around, but not gracefully, leaving Alonso to wave at his teammate. The Brazilian dived into the pit, with a slow stop as the left rear did not want to come off. The top six had pitted and were all on the softer tires by the end of L32, with Vettel leading Webber by less than two seconds. Alonso was about the same amount behind the second Red Bull, with Hamilton another twelve back in fourth. Massa and Button, whose KERS was not working, rounded out the top six.

Vettel still led with twenty laps to go, 2.3s ahead of Webber, who had 1.3s on Alonso. The Spaniard had nearly enough time to pit and remain ahead of the struggling Hamilton, as Massa, Button, Alguersuari, Rosberg, Sutil, and Heidfeld completed the top ten. Next, Hamilton was asked to push a bit harder, which he said he already was. For Button, in another bad day for McLaren, the words was to save as much tire as possible with his malfunctioning KERS.

Though the gap between Webber and Alonso remained about the same with fifteen laps left, Vettel was gaining time on his teammate as the gap was up to four seconds between them. Webber pitted on L42 for the harder tire, quite out of shape when entering the pit lane on the used tires, followed by Hamilton. Alguersuari made his second stop soon thereafter. Webber rejoined in third, Hamilton sixth, though the Australian’s first lap out was quite slow.

Alonso pitted on L46, with eleven laps left, and rejoined in the middle of traffic and right in front of Webber, with Petrov first between them. The two attempted to navigate a Force India, HRT, and seemingly every slow car in the field. Vettel pitted with ten laps to go and a twenty-four second lead on Alonso. The German remained in the lead with a solid stop for the regulation harder tires. Behind them, Webber, Massa, Button, Hamilton, Rosberg, Alguersuari, Sutil, and Heidfeld continued to complete the top ten, though both Massa and Button had to stop for the harder tire.

Both stopped on L49 of 57, losing position to Hamilton, but slotting into fifth and sixth ahead of Rosberg. As the final laps ticked down, Vettel had a solid nearly ten seconds on Alonso, who also looked moderately safe in second with a couple of seconds between he and Webber. Further back, only Kobayashi and Petrov, fighting over fifteenth, were within a second of each other with five laps remaining. Vettel set a race fast lap on L53, putting his gap to Alonso over eleven seconds.

Meanwhile, Red Bull informed Webber that there was a gearbox issue and he would need to short shift. He would be safe, with Hamilton thirty seconds behind, but would be unable to do anything about Alonso ahead. On the final lap, it looked as though Vettel would continue to dominate the 2011 season with another win, lapping drivers up through and including eighth place in a race without safety cars or retirements.

Final Positions for the 2011 European Grand Prix:

Driver Team Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari + 10.8
3. Mark Webber Red Bull + 27.2
4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren +46.1
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari +51.7
6. Jenson Button McLaren +60.0
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP +98.0
8. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso +1 Lap
9. Adrian Sutil Force India +1 Lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Renault +1 Lap
11. Sergio Perez Sauber +1 Lap
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams +1 Lap
13. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso +1 Lap
14. Paul di Resta Force India +1 Lap
15. Vitaly Petrov Renault +1 Lap
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber +1 Lap
17. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP +1 Lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 Lap
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus +2 Laps
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus +2 Laps
21. Timo Glock Virgin Racing +2 Laps
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin Racing +2 Laps
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT +3 Laps
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT +3 Laps

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