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Alonso puts heat on Vettel with Spanish win

Winner Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain (C) celebrates as second-place Lotus Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland
Winner Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain (C) celebrates as second-place Lotus Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland

By Alan Baldwin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso rewrote the Formula One form book and cranked up the heat in the title battle by winning his home Spanish Grand Prix for the second time on Sunday.

On an afternoon littered with pitstops and full of frustration at high levels of tyre degradation, the double world champion powered to his second victory of the season and 32nd of his career.

"It's very special winning at home. It doesn't matter how many times you can do it, how many you repeat it, it's always like starting from zero and you have again very emotional last laps," said the Spaniard.

In his moment of triumph, with the Spanish flag in his hands as he waved at fans on the slowing down lap, Alonso became the first driver in 23 years of racing at the Circuit de Catalunya to win from outside the top three grid positions.

The 31-year-old, who triumphed in Barcelona with Renault in 2006 and also in Valencia last year at the European Grand Prix, had started only fifth but took the chequered flag 9.3 seconds ahead of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus.

Red Bull's triple world champion Sebastian Vettel was fourth, 38.2 seconds behind Alonso, and saw his overall lead over Raikkonen cut to four points.

After five of the 19 races, the German has 89 points to Raikkonen's 85 and Alonso's 72. Champions Red Bull are now just 14 points ahead of Ferrari.

With the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton locking out the front row, and Vettel and Raikkonen ahead of him, Alonso seized third place through the third corner in a barnstorming start with the crowd roaring him on.

By the 13th of 66 laps, he was in front and took command despite a late puncture caused by debris that would likely have proved terminal to his hopes had he been racing with last season's tyres.

"It was fantastically emotional and the fans really helped because you feel the support from everyone," said the Spaniard, who was summoned to the stewards after the race but escaped sanction for his flag waving gesture in breach of the regulations.

"We have only had five races and there have been some ups and downs but we know we have the car to fight with the top cars and if we do well we can compete for the championship."

Raikkonen, in the points for a 22nd successive race and now just two short of Michael Schumacher's all-time record, denied Ferrari a one-two finish with Brazilian Felipe Massa taking a distant third in his best result of the season.

HAMILTON STRUGGLES

Hamilton slipped to fourth overall with 50 points after spending the afternoon falling through the field as Mercedes, as expected, again failed to live up to their electrifying qualifying pace.

The 2008 world champion ended up out of the points in 12th and was even heard exclaiming that he had been overtaken by a Williams - driven by last year's winner Pastor Maldonado - as a measure of how much he was struggling.

"It's got to down as one of the worst races I've had for a long, long time," he said.

"It was way too tough. We have got a lot of work to do. We both went backwards, but I went back a long, long way and I don't know why. We will keep going back to the drawing board and see what we can do."

Former champions Williams have failed to score a point in five races with a car lacking aerodynamic performance and Venezuelan Maldonado, who finished 14th after a drive-through penalty, had started way back in 17th place.

In a race where even the hard tyres were not durable enough, Alonso pitted four times - the same as Vettel and Massa - while Raikkonen made only three trips to the pitlane.

Rosberg, who had also been on pole at the previous race in Bahrain where he finished ninth, led for the first 10 laps before facing up to the inevitable slide down the order.

The German, sixth at the finish behind Red Bull's Mark Webber, was not to lead again as Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez, who astonishingly also set the fastest lap, took over at the front for two laps in a Sauber amid the pitstops before Alonso asserted himself.

Britain's Paul Di Resta was seventh for Force India with McLaren's Jenson Button eighth after starting 14th on another weekend of suffering for his team. Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was ninth and Australian Daniel Ricciardo 10th for Toro Rosso.

What little drama there was, apart from some sublime overtaking by Alonso and Raikkonen, came from pitlane mishaps.

Caterham were fined 10,000 euros ($13,000) for the unsafe release from the pits of Dutch rookie Giedo van der Garde, whose car lost a wheel shortly after he was told to drive back to the pits because it was not properly attached.

Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg was handed a drive-through penalty for colliding with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in the pits while Lotus's French driver Romain Grosjean retired with a suspension failure.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Keith Weir, Alison Wildey and John Mehaffey)

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