Valencia: the real Spanish Grand Prix


How good was Fernando Alonso in Valencia. (No question mark required.) As capable as the current Formula 1 crop is, only he is capable of “If you go there, he’ll go there and I’ll go here” performances.

Only he has the sufficient spare capacity to monitor and assess rivals’ tactics and strategies while keeping track of and/or amending his own. Yes, he rode his luck: the Safety Car scrambled because of Jean-Eric Vergne’s scatterbrained scattering of carbon fibre chaff; the recurrence of Lewis Hamilton’s jack-sh*t pit stops; and Sebastian Vettel’s all-ter-cock alternator. But one knew from the moment he conjured gaps at the start that Alonso was going to be a major factor.

He could have chosen to go long on Primes, having qualified outside the top 10, but instead he took the soft Options: aggressive, not conservative. Mixing cunning Prost patience with stunning Senna panache, he overtook Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado before pitting the lap before runaway Vettel did. A demon in-lap and a Ferrari pit stop of now routine Latin precision tucked Kimi Räikkönen away – and a podium finish was on. Or better.

Alonso’s relentlessness does not prevent his daring to dream. What if he pushed like hell? And so – once more on softs – he continued to drive like an angel. Mark Webber. Michael Schumacher. Bruno Senna. Consecutive laps. Consecutive zaps! No mercy for nursers of decaying Pirelli carcasses.

Best of all was his outside pass of Romain Grosjean after the restart: the young Frenchman driving the faster car with much adroitness rendered gauche by the audacious best-in-the-business.

Valencia roared when Vettel’s Red Bull sighed then died, and roared again as its red matador soaked up the adulation that his drive – the best of his 29 wins – deserved. I’ve seen Alonso’s top lip curl, and pout to the point of pettiness, but I can’t recall it trembling before. Emotional scenes.

At which point my Northern cold shoulder barged in: come on, lad, this isn’t the Spanish Grand Prix, you know.

Its European in-law is too much a concocted plugger of chronological and/or geopolitical holes to generate much affection in my house. An ace up Bernie Ecclestone’s sleeve, it’s no doubt extremely handy – but wrong.

Valencia, its lessee since 2008, seems somewhat skew-whiff too: a reclaimed fish market out of water. Though studded with oligarchic floating gin palaces, it lacks the history to leaven an undeniable dead-eyed dullness. Only Alonso’s effort has prevented it from becoming the bland that time forgot – in the same way that Germany’s footballing defeat of Greece shored up the creaking Eurozone.

Revived as a separate entity in 1983 when plans for a race at New York’s Flushing Meadows went down the pan, the European GP ushered in the new Nürburgring in 1984, then gave Nigel Mansell his first F1 win, at Brands Hatch in 1985, before being dumped for the Hungarian GP.

It returned in 1993 to give Donington Park’s Tom Wheatcroft his day of days and Ayrton Senna his lap of laps. For the next dozen or so years, however, it existed in the main to provide Michael Schumacher the opportunity to rack ’em up at the ’Ring – and knock ’em down at Jerez: 1997, Jacques Villeneuve, corner pocket.

It wasn’t always so. The GP d’Europe was created by the AIACR, precursor of the FIA, as an honorific title, a cherry on the cake that was to be shared: seven Belgian and Italian, five British, four French and German, two Dutch and Monaco(s?), one Austrian, San Sebastian and Swiss Grands Prix were so bestowed between 1923 and ’77.

Carlo Salamano won the first for Fiat, at Monza. Giuseppe Campari won the next for Alfa Romeo: a French GP at Lyon that marked the high point of racing in ’20s Europe. Overtaken in 1931 by the creation of the European Championship, a war-torn continent found a unifying role for it in ’47.

The first World Championship race was held at Silverstone in 1950, but its official title was the GP d’Europe. Ditto Stirling Moss/Tony Brooks’ historic success for Vanwall and Britain at Aintree (below) in 1957. Brooks in fact won three so-titled races in succession, the others being at Spa and Reims.

The last win for a front-engined F1 car – Phil Hill’s Ferrari Dino at a Monza with its bankings in ’60 – was a GP d’Europe. Stirling Moss’s defeat of Ferrari’s Sharknoses in an underpowered Lotus small fry at the Nürburgring in ’61 was too – as was Jackie Stewart’s wrist-in-a-cast Matra masterclass at the same track seven years later.

But after James Hunt’s victory for McLaren at Silverstone, the idea was considered too twee – a marketing tool of Swiss Army Knife proportions – for such a young-thruster sport and was kicked into touch without ceremony. This wasn’t new. Nor was the fact that it would be picked up and run with again. The difference this time was that the latter occurred because its incorporation in the business plan was deemed advantageous.

Not that Alonso, nor his chanting fans – both lost in the moment – cared. Maldonado and Williams can keep their Barcelona victory of course, but it’s clear for all to see that Valencia hosted this year’s ‘Spanish’ GP.

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