What a crazy grand prix that was! Just when you think, "Ah, we're going to Valencia, it'll be a snoozefest", F1 2012 continues to entertain. The race had everything - drama, overtaking, strategy, safety cars and an all-star podium at the end.
This may have been the closest qualifying in F1 history. The top 13 cars after Q2 were separated by just 3 tenths of a second which is simply staggering - I remember times in the late 1980's and early 1990's when the pole position man would be over a second ahead of second place ! Ferrari could have gone away from Saturday feeling pretty depressed, but in reality they had both cars within 3 tenths of the fastest man in Q2, knowing full well that their race pace is relatively strong compared to their single lap pace.
Red Bull arrived in Valencia with a heavily updated car and it seemed to do the job. Mark's poor qualifying stemmed from his lack of running on Saturday morning but otherwise it was very clear that the reigning world champions had made a step ahead of the pack. In the race, Vettel scampered off into the lead and with Lewis holding the pack up, he was free to run at whatever pace he wanted to manage the gap and the tyres. The safety car changed all that, but once again at the re-start, the German ace got away fine and looked set for victory when an alternator problem put him out.
I don't know what else can be said about Fernando Alonso's brilliance that hasn't been said before. The Spaniard's win on Sunday was thanks to some good fortune with Seb's retirement but that should take nothing away from the fact that he had already worked his way up from 11th on the grid to 2nd on a track which is traditionally hard to overtake at. He capitalised brilliantly when Seb and Romain went defensive into the final corner on the safety car re-start to jump ahead of the Frenchman and then never looked back. It was fantastic to see just how emotionally charged Fernando was at the end of the race - you could tell just how much this win meant to him. If you said to anyone after Melbourne that Fernando would be leading the world championship after 8 rounds, they would've laughed but lo and behold there he is!
Romain Grosjean was the star of the weekend for me. He had a scruffy middle sector on his final qualifying lap but apart from that, he drove beautifully all weekend at the track where he made his grand prix debut in 2009. Back then, he was the rookie team-mate to Fernando Alonso, thrown into the deep end with minimum testing mid-season and although he qualified within 3 tenths of Fernando first time out, the rest of the season didn't quite go to plan. On his comeback, he has been a different bloke and is in fantastic form. It was a real shame that the alternator on his car let go just as he was getting into the zone to start attacking Fernando for the lead. Whether or not he would've got ahead is another question but the fact that he was in that position itself says a lot. Romain's move around Lewis through turns 12 and 13 was excellent - aggressive, attacking, forceful and yet controlled. That first win cannot be far away!
Mercedes looked better in qualifying than they did in the race once again. Nico put together a very good lap to qualify 5th but after losing positions on the opening lap, he didn't really look like being in contention. Once the team switched him and Michael to two-stoppers from their original one-stop plan, the German team-mates clawed their way back up the field on fresher tyres to log in more points. It was great to see Michael back on the podium, ironically on a weekend where he didn't look as strong as he has in recent months.
Off to Silverstone next and a totally different circuit to the ones we've been to. The teams are coming from Monaco, Canada and Valencia where the average speeds in the corners are very low. Silverstone's fast, flowing sequences of corners will provide a totally different challenge in terms of aerodynamic requirements as well as tyre loading. It's becoming increasingly clear that the teams that are going to be able to develop the car quickly are the ones who are going to stay in front and thus far, you have to say that Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus have done the best job since Melbourne. Roll on the British Grand Prix I say!