Posted Jun 24th 2012 5:31PM
Never has there been a season in Formula One as hotly contested as this one. Not only does the field contain an unprecedented six world champions -- accounting for a whopping fourteen titles between them -- but each of the seven grands prix so far this year has been won by a different driver. And each time the leaders play leap-frog in the standings.
The question has been how much longer this could possibly go on. Surely one driver would emerge as the clear frontrunner take a second checkered flag home on Sunday. Right? Keep reading to find out.
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Qualifying on Saturday placed defending champion Sebastian Vettel on pole position, with arch-rival Lewis Hamilton lining up beside him. The surprise was Pastor Maldonado, the relative rookie with the erstwhile troubled Williams team who followed up on his exceptional victory in Barcelona with a third-place qualifying position, out-pacing Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg, Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Hulkenberg, Jenson Button and Paul di Resta. Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa all qualified just outside the top ten, with Mark Webber all the way down in nineteenth. Timo Glock sat out this race due to illness.
Once the race got underway, Vettel and Hamilton held onto their places at the front, but Grosjean quickly overtook Maldonado for third. Kobayashi took Rosberg for fifth and Raikkonen dropped back. The real action was with the Ferraris, however, which were charging up from the middle of the grid.
Meanwhile, Vettel opened up a commanding lead that only widened the gap to Hamilton behind him, who was holding up Grosjean.
On the thirteenth lap, both Raikkonen and Alonso squeezed past Maldonado, and by the twenty-second, Alonso took fourth from di Resta. Not bad for someone who started eleventh.
A collision between Kobayashi and Senna saw the Brazilian spin, pit and then re-pit with a drive-through penalty, followed by another collision between Verge and Kovalainen that brought out the safety car. In the ensuing flurry of pit stops, Hamilton suffered from a malfunctioning tire jack that cost him dearly.
The green flag only waved again on lap 32 as Vettel lead Grosjean and Alonso. The Spanish champion soon passed the young Frenchman, but the bigger news soon followed as Sebastian Vettel retired trackside from the lead with an apparent (and clearly frustrating) mechanical issue.
With Alonso leading, Schumacher hit the pits, rejoined with fresh Pirellis in eleventh place, and diced his way through the field. All the while Raikkonen and Hamilton duked it out for second place as Grosjean dropped back. Kimi would emerge the winner of that battle as Schumacher closed in one car at a time, showing the brilliant form for which he was once celebrated.
Misfortune struck Hamilton, however, on the penultimate lap when Maldonado hit his McLaren sending him into the wall and out of the race. Schumacher slipped into third.
Across the line on the final lap, Alonso claimed an impressive victory in front of his home crowd in Valencia, having started way down in eleventh. Raikkonen took second to match the same result in Bahrain - his best since returning to the grid. The real surprise, however, was Schumacher, who may not have won as Pirelli predicted, but took his first podium since coming out of retirement.
Webber, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, di Resta, Button, Perez and Maldonado claimed the remaining points. Senna, Ricciardo, Petrov, Kovalainen, Pic, Massa, de la Rosa and Karthikeyan all finished outside the points, as Hamilton, Grosjean, Vettel, Kobayashi and Vergne watched the end of the race from the pit wall.
And just like that, Fernando Alonso takes a commanding lead in the standings with 111 points (ten times those of his teammate Massa), ahead of Mark Webber with 91. Hamilton trails with 88 but Vettel is down to fourth place with 85 points. Red Bull still leads the constructors' standings with 176 points to McLaren's 137, Lotus' 126 and Ferrari's 122.
Will the win go to another new driver at Silverstone? Will Alonso further cement his lead? Or will another previous race winner take his place? Tune in in two weeks for the results from the British Grand Prix to find out.