F1's run of different winners was capped at seven as Fernando Alonso took an emotional - and somewhat unexpected - victory in front of his home crowd on the Valencia street circuit.
The Spaniard came from eleventh on the grid to claim the win, but initially looked destined for a podium finish at best as world champion Sebastian Vettel appeared intent on making it a European Grand Prix hat-trick for himself and Red Bull Racing. When the German's near 20-second cushion was wiped out by the safety car, it made the race more interesting, but not as much as his subsequent retirement on the second lap after the restart.
Vettel made the perfect getaway from his third pole of the season, leaving front row partner Lewis Hamilton with no option but to slot into second in order to protect his position from Pastor Maldonado. Further back, there was contact in the pack - notably between the two Lotus drivers and then between Romain Grosjean and Maldonado as the Frenchman went through into third - but fortunately there was no repeat of the GP2 shenanigans that produced five safety car period across two races.
Vettel, however, was unaffected, and had already stretched out a near two-second advantage as the cars flashed back across the start-finish line, with Hamilton, Grosjean, a fast-starting Kamui Kobayashi and Maldonado next up. Alonso, having gained one place in the opening skirmish, had risen to eighth by the end of the lap, having pounced on Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta through turns four and five.
Vettel appeared to be running away with the race as he continued to pile on the pace through the first part of the race, although his speed did raise the question of just how many pit-stops he was planning to make during the 57-lap distance. With the majority of the field looking at two or three changes of tyres, the guess was that the world champion may be aiming for the latter, needing to build a gap - albeit not one as big as required by most circuits - in order to retain his victory aspirations.
By lap five, he was nearly eight seconds to the good, covering the middle sector of the lap a second faster than anyone else. Vettel's cause was helped by Grosjean's pursuit of Hamilton, which saw the Lotus driver take several looks at the McLaren before eventually passing it at the end of the DRS zone heading into turn twelve on lap ten. The Frenchman was not the only one on the move, with Alonso taking Nico Hulkenberg for seventh and Kimi Raikkonen overcoming Maldonado to move into the top five, before the first round of pit-stops began in earnest on lap 13.
Hamilton was the first of the frontrunners to stop, with Kobayashi, Raikkonen, Maldonado and Hulkenberg following a lap later. Alonso was in on lap 15, but a quick turnaround allowed the Spaniard to pick up a place at Raikkonen's expense. Vettel's margin, however, was enough for him to stop and rejoin in the lead, while Grosjean managed the same feat from second.
Alonso's race could have come unstuck when he became embroiled in a multi-car battle ensnared by Michael Schumacher - which at its height included no fewer than nine of the German's rivals - but nipping past the Mercedes for sixth on the road allowed him vital breathing space that allowed him to catch and pass the late-stopping Paul di Resta and move back into the top four approaching half-distance
By then, Vettel had stretched out nearly 19secs over his pursuers, and the race appeared to be in his pocket until Jean-Eric Vergne's ill-advised swerve at Heikki Kovalainen that not only damaged both cars but also left the track covered with sufficient debris to warrant the appearance of the safety car. Although the decision came late enough to deny Vettel the chance to make his second stop when those immediately behind them could, the German was still able to complete his tyre change and slot in behind the safety car as it trundled round for five laps.