Vettel holds off challenge from Hamilton
After a rollercoaster ride and a dogged battle, Sebastian Vettel celebrated yet another 2011, this time in the Spanish Grand Prix.
The reigning champion had to fend off tough challenges – both direct and indirect – from Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. With tyre strategy once again playing a key role, Vettel used this to great effect as he made his second stop ahead of the competition and drove a superfast outlap to position himself at the front.
Despite an intermittent problem with his KERS, the Red Bull driver then hung on to the lead, with Hamilton constantly breathing down the back. The McLaren man exerted considerable pressure and was looking very dangerous, but on the final stop, Vettel emerged from the pit lane still in the lead and spent the last stint holding off his close pursuer. Despite some nervous moments, he succeeded. The battle for third was a clash of different strategies. Button went for three tyre changes while Webber and Alonso pitted four times.
And it was the pit stops that cost Alonso dearly. The Spaniard had thrilled the home fans at the start when he took the lead going into the first corner and held it until after the first pit stop. But on the second stop, he lost his place to Vettel and had to defend his position against Webber. Although Alonso kept the Australian at bay for quite a while, he had to adapt his tactics. That helped Button. The Englishman was on fresh tyres and picked off the pair of them in a single manoeuvre on Lap 36 before Webber then passed Alonso level with the pit lane.
The Spaniard then had nothing in reserve, which left Webber free to pit for a fourth time and chase down Button who was now the one struggling with worn tyres. Lap by lap, the Australian was closing in, but ultimately he had to accept that the McLaren driver had gambled better this time. Behind Webber and Alonso, Michael Schumacher had made good several positions to cross the line in sixth, having saved up his supply of fresh option tyres from qualifying. Nico Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld, Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi took the remaining points.
Heidfeld managed the feat of finishing eighth after starting last, thanks in no small part to the fresh sets of tyres he had in reserve. Felipe Massa was out of luck, running out of steam just a few laps before the end while still in a points-scoring position. Apart from the Brazilian, the other unclassified drivers on Sunday were Heikki Kovalainen who crashed into the tyre wall and Tonio Liuzzi whose car ground to a halt. Adrian Sutil finished the race in 13th place with Sebastien Buemi directly behind in 14th. Timo Glock crossed the finish line in 20th.
2011 Formula One Drivers & Constructors Championship Standings