Every race I seem to say this, but the 2012 season keeps delivering the excitement. As you could probably tell from my previous blog post (and probably from one or two others last year), Valencia is typically my least favourite race of the season. It seems to be one of those races which I tend to watch just for the completeness of the season, rather than for any actual racing action. Honestly, I usually find Valencia boring - and I stand by this fact for previous years of this grand prix. However, yesterday I was forced to concede my opinion, as Valencia was actually interesting.
Red Bull approached the race with some fairly major upgrades - this came through in qualifying for Sebastian Vettel, who once again snatched pole position at the street circuit (this in turn meaning that Seb has equalled the career total pole positions of Jim Clark and Alain Prost - not bad for someone only five years older than me!). However, Mark Webber did not fare as well at Valencia: technical issues meant he left the Saturday session in Q1, qualifying 19th. All in all, qualifying was a fairly standard affair, with the only surprises including Maldonado gaining third position in the Williams, and the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa falling out at Q2 - something which clearly did not amuse the boss Luca di Montezemolo. Lotus seemed to have a great qualifying by contrast, and indeed many predicted that we may see a Lotus on the podium, or indeed winning. One final noteworthy performance in qualifying included Heikki Kovalainen's performance in the Caterham. Once again, Heikki made it through to Q2, and ended up ahead of both Toro Rosso cars - perhaps signalling that the Caterham team may soon edge closer to the points finishes.
So, with qualifying decided it was time for race day - and I have to confess that I was still sceptical of an exciting race. Questions were raised as to whether we'd see an eighth winner, or if not then who would be our first double winner of 2012. At the start of the race, Sebastian pulled his usual trick of streaking away into the distance (of course, prompting smiles from myself), pursued by Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. Fernando Alonso, despite an abysmal qualifying session, managed a fantastic start in the race, and was soon closing in on the top runners. For a while, the race ran without too much close action (Vettel having pulled out a 20 second lead over Grosjean), however Jean Eric Vergne changed all of that by crashing into Heikki Kovalainen (later leading to him having a 10 place grid drop for Silverstone and a 25,000 Euro fine), prompting the safety car to intervene while the officials cleared the track of debris. After a while behind the safety car, the restart ran as normal, with Vettel again leaving the other runners in the dust.
While it seemed as though Vettel had the race in the bag, disaster later struck as his RB8 suddenly lost drive owing to a failed alternator. For the first time, we saw Vettel showing his frustration as he threw his gloves while walking away from the stricken car. However, in later interviews Seb claimed that while he was disappointed at losing the race win, he was encouraged by the car's pace - hopefully something we'll see at Silverstone.
Alonso had great luck at the safety car restart, managing to pass Grosjean after passing Hamilton earlier in the race. So, with Vettel out of the race, Alonso took the lead. Grosjean pursued Alonso closely for a few laps, when his luck also ran out with the same alternator problem as Vettel. No doubt Renault will be receiving some questions from both Red Bull and Lotus this week! Hamilton thus took over in the podium positions, and looked set to bag a great number of points. However, a collision caused by Maldonado meant that he too was forced out of the race.
So, with the top runners retiring, who was left to occupy the final spots on the podium behind Alonso? Well, those who predicted Lotus would be on the podium were correct, with Kimi Raikkonen taking over second place. While both Alonso and Raikkonen had amazing drives, perhaps my driver of the weekend has to go to the third place man: Michael Schumacher. Words cannot describe how great it is to see Michael back on the podium, and back where he belongs. After the huge amount of bad luck he's had this season, no doubt Schumi will relish this position and look forward to more podiums.
A final driver of note has to be Mark Webber. After qualifying 19th, the race didn't look like a promising prospect. However, as ever, Mark managed to pull something out of the bag and drive through the field to eventually finish fourth. Hopefully next time out Mark will have a better qualifying session and will too end up on the podium.
So, there we go. I take it back: Valencia was exciting. While I'm still not 100% convinced that the European grand prix should be held at this particular circuit every year, 2012 did show that the track wasn't completely a lost cause.
If you've not seen the race yet, I of course urge you to watch it - or at least catch highlights. While you're at it, it will be worth watching the GP2 races held at Valencia. If anything, these races were even more exciting than the F1, and it's great to watch the future F1 stars at work.
This weekend I'm heading off to the Goodwood