• European Grand Prix

Vettel eases to victory in Valencia

ESPNF1 Staff
June 26, 2011

Sebastian Vettel led the European Grand Prix from start to finish to take his sixth victory of the season ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

Alonso was the only driver capable of fighting the Red Bulls and he traded second place with Webber twice before coming out on top after the final pit stops. He got within three seconds of Vettel at one point, but the championship leader had the measure of the rest of the field and managed his race to perfection so as not to come under pressure.

Lewis Hamilton, who started from third, never came close to the lead after a poor getaway dropped him behind the two Ferraris. He managed to get back past Felipe Massa, who finished behind him in fifth, but was over 45 seconds adrift of Vettel by the end of the race.

After the glory of Canada, Jenson Button found himself fighting a losing battle in Valencia and finished sixth after his KERS failed midway through the race.

The start was surprisingly clean as 24 cars filed through the opening corners, with Vettel leading away. Massa got the best start, flying off the line to take Hamilton and Alonso before trying to get down the inside of Webber in to turn one. Webber defended against the Ferrari though, allowing Alonso to re-pass his team-mate around the outside.

A more wary Hamilton was squeezed out in to fifth, while Button dropped behind Nico Rosberg. In the early stages Hamilton kept pace with the leaders as the front five ran no more than six seconds apart, but Button was hurt stuck behind Rosberg until finally getting past under braking in to turn two. He then showed comparable pace to the leaders, but by now was too far back to make an impression.

Hamilton was the first man to replace his soft tyres, and while Webber and Alonso soon followed suit, it allowed him to get the jump on Massa who stayed out three laps longer. Vettel retained his lead after the first round of stops but the gap was reduced to under two seconds. Alonso then pressured Webber for second, as the DRS helped close gaps but didn't make overtaking a simple task. Alonso eventually managed to get close enough to use the DRS to pass in to turn 12.

In clear air Alonso was able to keep Vettel honest but couldn't close the gap any further as it stabalised around the three second mark. Webber stayed close and pitted for the second time a lap before Alonso, using the undercut to leapfrog the Ferrari back in to second again. Behind them Hamilton was dropping back as he struggled to make his tyres last, being asked to slow by his McLaren team before being encouraged to pick up his pace later in stints.

Again the gap between the front three closed to around three seconds when Vettel pitted for a second time, but in his third stint he never allowed it to close. Webber needed to pit for medium tyres first, and with a big performance difference between the two compounds Alonso stayed out for two further laps on his softs and managed to extract enough lap time to retake second. By this point Vettel's lead was up to over six seconds, and he eased away after the final stops.

Hamilton was again early to stop, but Massa struggled with a delayed left rear and dropped back towards Button. Any hopes of a close battle were immediately ended though as Button's KERS failed, costing him around half a second a lap. Fortunately he had a large gap over Rosberg, who was more concerned with Jaime Alguersuari who was making a two stop strategy work in the Toro Rosso. Having started eighteenth Alguersuari couldn't keep pace with the Mercedes, but did hold of Adrian Sutil late on to secure a highly impressive eighth place.

There was a late scare for Webber as a gearbox problem slowed him, but with over half a minute in hand over Hamilton he could nurse the car home. That was one of the only problems of note, as Michael Schumacher also broke his front wing on the back of Vitaly Petrov when exiting the pits. He was only able to recover to 17th as remarkable reliability and sensible driving saw all 24 cars finish the race.