VALENCIA, Spain, June 24, 2012 (AFP) - Local hero Fernando Alonso sparked more Spanish celebrations here Sunday when he became the first man to win two Formula One races this year by driving his Ferrari to victory in the European Grand Prix.
Less than 24 hours after his national soccer team had secured their place in the semi-finals at Euro 2012, the two-time drivers' champion gave a sun-basking crowd in Valencia every reason to enjoy another party.
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 of Mercedes.
Mark Webber, who started 19th, came home fourth for Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Nico Rosberg who was sixth for Mercedes.
"I cannot put into words the special feeling of winning your home Grand Prix," said Alonso, whose namesake Xabi Alonso scored both goals to see Spain past France at the Euro quarter-finals.
The Spaniard, who drove a superb race from 11th on the grid, added: "It is unique and special.
"The stands were full of colour and Spanish flags and, after the footballers won at Euro 2012, I am feeling very proud to be Spanish at the moment. This is possibly the best victory I have ever had."
Alonso's win lifted him to the top of the drivers' championship standings with 111 points ahead of Webber on 91 with Hamilton now third on 88, having come into the race as the leader.
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."
On a sweltering afternoon at the street circuit created in the Mediterranean docks of this eastern Spanish city, the race was punctuated by incident, with Lewis Hamilton of McLaren crashing out after a final lap
collision with Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
A frustrated Hamilton threw his steering wheel from his car and stormed back to the pits on foot and with his helmet on despite the sweltering heat.
Despite being clearly upset the Briton bit his tongue and said, "A tough day in the office but you have to deal with it.
"We're looking forward to going to Silverstone but we were a long way off today."
Maldonado, who was involved in collisions with Hamilton last season, said: "He tried to put me off of the track and he didn't give me any room. I jumped over the kerb and couldn't avoid the accident. I don't know why he was driving like that. He tried a very aggressive movement on me.
The incident hoisted 43-year-old Schumacher into the top three making him the oldest podium finisher since Australian Jack Brabham, in 1970, when he was 44.
It was the German veteran's first podium since he returned to the sport with Mercedes in 2010.
Schumacher said: "I didn't think about a podium at all. I asked my guys at the end of the race where I finished and when they told me third, I couldn't believe it. You lose count of where you are, it was busy at the end of the race."
Defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull was forced to retire after dominating most of the race after starting from pole position as also was his nearest challenger Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
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."