VALENCIA, Spain, June 24, 2012 (AFP) - Ferrari's Fernando Alonso won a thrilling European Grand Prix here on Sunday, the Spanish driver becoming the first repeat winner of a wide-open season.
Less than 24 hours after Spain had secured their place in the semi-finals at Euro 2012, the two-time drivers' champion gave his home fans in Valencia more reason to celebrate.
Alonso, who drove a superb race from 11th on the grid, said: "I can't express in words my feeling at the moment, to win my home grand prix is a unique feeling, and with the football I'm feeling proud to be Spanish right now."
Alonso, who picked up a Spanish flag to wave on his victorious slowing down lap, came home first ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus and third-placed seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, 43, of Mercedes.
In a dramatic finale, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren crashed out after a final lap collision with Pastor Maldonado of Williams, an incident that hoisted Schumacher into the top three to make him the oldest podium finisher since Australian Jack Brabham, in 1970, when he was 44.
Defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull was forced to retire after dominating most of the race from pole position as also was his nearest challenger, Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Mark Webber, who started 19th, came home fourth for Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Nico Rosberg who was sixth for Mercedes.
Alonso now leads the drivers' standings on 111 points, from Webber on 91, Hamilton on 88 and Vettel four points further adrift in fourth.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was ecstatic and said: "It was an unbelievable race and, for me, it is important that we kept the pace.
"Our main competitors lost some important points and I am very happy for Fernando, it was an incredible performance. Yesterday was not easy for us, but it's great for us today."
Vettel, who retired on lap 35, said: "We don't know what happened yet. I lost drive and then the engine stalled the switched off. We don't know what the problem is."
On a sweltering hot day on the eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, where the track temperature was 45 degrees at that start, Vettel had made a flawless start from his 33rd pole position.
He was soon streaking away into the distance and by lap five was already more than seven seconds clear of Hamilton.
Grosjean who had the pace to threaten the front-runners proved it on lap 11 when he set up and then passed Hamilton with a smart and smoothly-executed move that left the Briton with no choice but to yield second place.
The first round of pit stops reshuffled the field only slightly with Vettel out in front, ahead of the chasing Grosjean, Hamilton and Alonso, the German enjoying a luxurious lead of 20 seconds by lap 22 and Hamilton four seconds further adrift in third.
The safety car made an entrance on lap 28 when Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso attempted to pass Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham but instead hit him causing punctures for both with debris strewn across the track.
This, in turn, meant that he field was slowed and bunched up again as the leaders dived into the pits where Hamilton, once again, suffered another slow and bungled McLaren stop as his crew struggled with his front left wheel. He rejoined in sixth.
The race re-started at the end of lap 33 with Alonso, fired up by the partisan home crowd, making a superb move to pass Grosjean.Within another lap Vettel's Red Bull slowed down and he was forced to retire from the race - gifting Alonso the lead.
On lap 41, Grosjean followed Vettel out of the race with an alternator problem.
This lifted Hamilton back to second with Raikkonen third - three world champions at the front of the field and only a dozen laps to go - before Hamilton crashed out.