Fernando Alonso ended a seven-year wait to claim his second Spanish Grand Prix triumph to thrill his fans in Barcelona.
Ferrari and Alonso managed the strategy to ensure the 31-year-old took the chequered flag for the 32nd time in his career, in a race featuring a staggering 82 pit stops as Pirelli’s degrading rubber again seemingly played too much of a role in the outcome for all concerned.
Making four stops, Alonso finished nine seconds clear of three-stopping Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus, with the Finn having to settle for second for the third consecutive race.
Raikkonen has at least cut triple world champion Sebastian Vettel’s lead at the top of the standings to four points, with the German in fourth as Ferrari’s Felipe Massa completed the podium.
Despite their front-row lock-out following yesterday's qualifying, Mercedes appeared to find reverse gear on their cars as Nico Rosberg finished sixth and Lewis Hamilton 12th and out of the points for the first time this year.
No wonder Rosberg and Hamilton had preached caution regarding their hopes for the race, because despite Mercedes’ hopes of a cure for their lack of pace throughout a grand prix it never materialised.
Although leading for the opening 10 laps after claiming back-to-back pole positions for the first time in his career, the German was soon swallowed up after the first round of pit stops.
As for Hamilton, the Briton started to go backwards from lap one as he was initially outmanoeuvred by Vettel into turn one, and then by Alonso a few corners later.
Formula One these days has become all about tyre conservation, with Hamilton’s frustration coming to the fore just before the halfway stage of the 66 laps.
At that point, with Hamilton having plummeted to 15th, the 28-year-old dropped behind Williams’ Pastor Maldonado.
Turning to the radio, Hamilton said: “And now I’ve been passed by a Williams!”
When Hamilton was told soon after to look after his left-rear tyre, he then replied: “I can’t drive any slower.”
That has become the way of it in the sport at present, with Pirelli too much of a controlling force, even though they have spiced up the show.
Ultimately, it was Ferrari’s pace that held sway, allowing Alonso to move within 17 points of Vettel who was 38 seconds down come the fall of the flag, with Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber fifth.
Rosberg managed to hold Force India’s Paul Di Resta off for sixth, with the Scot again the best of the Brits for the second successive race as McLaren’s Jenson Button came home eighth ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez.
Bizarrely, although Perez closed on Button over the closing laps, he was given a radio message to conserve his tyres which forced him to back off, which could be interpreted as a team order, something team principal Martin Whitmarsh claimed did not exist within McLaren in Bahrain three weeks ago following a fall-out between his drivers.
There were plenty of other incidents, initially sparked by Romain Grosjean in his Lotus whose right-rear suspension gave way after eight laps, forcing him to limp to the pits where he retired.
Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde had only three wheels on his car when he returned to the garage a lap after his pit crew had failed to fit correctly his left-rear that came loose following his second stop.
Shortly after Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg and Jean-Eric Vergne in his Toro Rosso collided in the pits – with the former exiting his pit box from a stop and the latter entering his to make one – a Pirelli tyre again suffered another failure.
For the fifth occasion this season the tread shredded on a tyre, this time on Vergne’s car, which will lead to another Pirelli investigation.
In taking the victory, and starting from fifth on the grid, Alonso set a new record at this track as no driver had previously won from below third, with 21 of the prior 22 triumphs from the front row.
After savouring the roars of the crowd, Alonso said: “It’s very special winning at home, it doesn’t matter how may times you do, it’s always like starting from zero.
“The last laps are very long because you want the race to finish as soon as possible, but I’m very happy for the team.”
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali echoed the satisfaction felt as he said: “For sure, very, very happy. It was a good day for the team.
“The win was for the people who are working hard at the factory.”