Paul Fearnley's highlight of the year


Qualifying had been “a cold shower”. He was just over two tenths shy of Q2’s fastest lap – but 11th was 11th no matter which way you stacked it. Although he had an extra set of fresh rubber for the race, for once disappointment peeked from behind the usual punchy optimism. He had come up short in front of his home fans – and Luca di M.

That was Saturday.

Sunday dawns hot.

His start isn’t great but his car’s body language is positive, positive, positive. Every first-lap opportunity must be grabbed and he is on full alert. Sniffing. Sensing.

A plume of dust from the midst of the pack indicates his running wide over Turn 1’s kerb. He keeps his foot despite this to pass Jenson Button. Tenth.

Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta are clumsily mixing it and he uses their distraction to out-fumble them both in and out of Turns 4 and 5. Ninth. And eighth.

His hairpin pass of Nico Hülkenberg is too gung-ho, however, and lasts only seconds. It’s time to hang on to what he has. To evaluate. To be patient. It’s going to be a long day. Still eighth therefore.

His second push is launched just before the first stops: Hülkenberg on lap 13 for seventh and Pastor Maldonado – also on spent tyres and equally powerless – on lap 14 for sixth.

Three men ahead of him – Lewis Hamilton, Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Räikkönen pit, whereas he stays out, pushing like hell.

His in-lap and stop – 3.2 seconds – on lap 16 go well and Kobayashi and Räikkönen are gobbled up.

Unfortunately, he re-emerges behind a gaggle of long-distance runners. This cannot be allowed to happen. The third push, therefore, is instantaneous: around the outside of Mark Webber at Turn 2 – wow! – a DRS breeze by Bruno Senna and an outdragging/outbraking of Michael Schumacher in Turns 3 and 4.  Eighth, seventh and sixth in the space of two laps.

Rosberg pits. Fifth.

One-stopping di Resta is a sitting duck. Fourth.

Then he gets his first break. Two in fact: a safety car because of debris and a cocked stop for Hamilton. Third.

Romain Grosjean, who has been driving brilliantly, is then mugged – and lightly tagged – at the restart, at a now familiar venue: around the outside at Turn 2. Second.

Sebastian Vettel was right to be disappointed: he would have run away with it – for a second time – had his alternator not coughed. But Fernando Alonso won the European Grand Prix at (the usually dull) Valencia because he thought he could, and acted like he might right from the start when it would have been easier to aim for a cautious sixth or fifth.

On this occasion fortune rightly favoured the bravely brilliant.

You may also like