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Vettel goes three wins clear with Valencia victory
26 June 2011
Sebastian Vettel returned to winning ways with his sixth win of the 2011 season in a European Grand Prix that failed to deliver much in the way of action, but still secured a place in the F1 record books.
All 24 cars that started the race were still running at the finish, marking only the fourth time that an F1 race has been completed without a retirement while the race also had more classified finishers than any other in the history of the sport.
Aside from that, Valencia 2011 will be remembered for little other than another masterclass from defending champion Vettel, who made a solid start to retain the lead when the lights went out and was then able to control proceedings from the front to extend his championship advantage to 77 points – the equivalent of more than three race victories.
Vettel gradually pulled away from team-mate Mark Webber through the opening laps of the race as the Australian found himself defending against the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso – the Spaniard having made up a place at the start to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren.
Having said prior to the race that he was confident of challenging for a place on the podium, Hamilton's hopes all but ended at the start as his slow getaway also allowed Felipe Massa to jump ahead, with the Brazilian briefly holding third going into turn two before slotting in behind Alonso as the field headed into turn three.
As Vettel continued to lead, Webber came under increasing pressure from Alonso but despite maintaining his position in the first round of stops, the Australian was powerless to stop Alonso diving down the inside at turn twelve on lap 21 to move into second place, sending the Spanish crowd into raptures.
Alonso wouldn't stay ahead for long however as Red Bull's decision to bring Webber in for his second stop a lap earlier helped him jump back into second. The pair then ran together, with Vettel a few seconds down the road, until the final round of stops when Alonso jumped back ahead having been able to run three laps more on his soft compound Pirelli tyres.
While Vettel motored on to victory, any chance Webber had of completing a 1-2 for Red Bull came to an end when he was told to short-shift thanks to a gearbox problem in the closing laps and dropped back from the Ferrari as a result.
Vettel's margin of victory at the end was some 10.8 seconds over Alonso, while Webber came in more than 16 seconds further back in third place.
After his tardy start, the race would prove to be a low-key affair for Hamilton who ran fifth through the opening stint before getting ahead of Massa at the first round of stops when the Brazilian ran longer than the cars around him. The pair then maintained position through to the finish, albeit well down on the leaders with Hamilton 45 seconds behind Vettel and Massa six seconds further back.
Jenson Button meanwhile had an even less eventful race than team-mate Hamilton as he finished a lonely sixth, with his chances ending early on when he became stuck behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. Although he eventually got ahead of the German, the leaders had been able to break away and Button was never in contention to repeat his Canadian victory of a fortnight earlier, with a KERS failure also playing a part in him finishing a minute down on the winner.
Rosberg would take the chequered flag in seventh place as the final driver on the lead lap, with Jaime Alguersuari matching his best F1 result to date in eighth. The Toro Rosso driver had dropped out of qualifying in Q1 on Saturday afternoon but made a two-stop strategy work to his advantage while the majority of the field pitted three times to work his way up the order and then saw off the challenge of Adrian Sutil's Force India through the closing laps.
Sutil and Nick Heidfeld then completed the top ten with Sergio Perez falling less than seven seconds shy of turning a one-stop strategy into a points scoring finish – the Mexican ultimately failing in his gamble after a series of slow lap mid-way through the race before he made his one and only stop.
Rubens Barrichello was the first Williams home in twelfth ahead of a huge battle for 13th that saw Sebastien Buemi fend off the challenge of Paul di Resta, Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi.
After his best drive since coming out of retirement in Montreal, Michael Schumacher could only trail in down in 17th having lost time when he was forced to pit again immediately after his first stop when he touched Petrov's Renault at turn two. A poor start to the race saw Pastor Maldonado drop towards the rear of the field and the Williams driver never really recovered as he finished 18th, while Heikki Kovalainen was best o f the newcomers in 19th ahead of Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli.
Timo Glock, Jerome D'Ambrosio, Tonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan rounded out the field.
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