2011 European Grand Prix brings back the Spain [Spoilers]

2011 European Grand Prix – Click above for high-res image gallery

This weekend's European Grand Prix at Valencia had some big shoes to fill when it came down to racing spectacle. After the Spanish Grand Prix, the circus rolled in to Monte Carlo and then on to Montreal for the Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix – two races that were red-flagged in the middle and had to be restarted, so grueling was the action.

Would the eighth round in the 2011 Formula One World Championship be able to match the action of the previous two? Follow the jump to find out.

Qualifying for the race at Valencia held few surprises, with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren filling the front three rows. Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole once again, making it seven for eight for the defending champion. Behind him was teammate Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton took third for McLaren, his teammate Jenson Button in sixth to sandwich Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in fourth and fifth, respectively. Rosberg, Alguersuari, Sutil and Heidfeld
rounded out the top ten on the starting grid.

2011 European Grand Prix

The Red Bulls defended their positions off the line, but the Ferraris got the best of Hamilton as Massa and Alonso squeezed by into third and fourth, then switching position. As the top five remained within close proximity, a close battle ensued between Rosberg and Button for sixth place.

The first round of pit stops at this circuit, which is so demanding on tires, began with the backmarkers on lap 12. In an incident investigated but subsequently dismissed by the race stewards, Schumacher had a minor collision with Petrov's Renault coming out of the pit lane, but the seven-time world champ still managed to pass Sutil's Force India before pitting again to fix his broken front wing.

2011 European Grand Prix2011 European Grand Prix
2011 European Grand Prix

By lap 20 all but one car had made their first pit stops, leaving Vettel still in the lead with Webber a couple of seconds behind. Alonso remained in third, with Hamilton sandwiched between him and Massa, Button ahead of Rosberg. Sutil, Heidfeld and Barrichello rounded out the top ten as Schumacher fought his way back up the field.

Alonso managed his way past Webber for second place, only for the Australian to regain his position against the hometown hero during the second round of pit stops. The battle was far from over, however, as Alonso remained less than two seconds behind the second Red Bull, waiting for an opportunity to strike. That opportunity presented itself in the pits, as the Spaniard rejoined the field just ahead of the Aussie during the third round of stops.

Across the finish line after 57 rather uneventful laps, Vettel took not only the checkered flag once again, but also the fastest lap, starting from pole, dominating every measure of the race from start to finish. Ten seconds adrift, Alonso finished second, over sixteen ticks ahead of third-place Webber, to score Ferrari's best result so far this season.

2011 European Grand Prix2011 European Grand Prix

Hamilton ultimately finished fourth, Massa fifth, Button sixth and Rosberg seventh. Alguersuari, Sutil and Heidfeld rounded out the top ten, one lap down, with every driver finishing the race, the bottom six lapped twice and the last two triple-lapped.

The results, of course, catapult Vettel and Red Bull even further into the lead, the reigning champion holding 186 points in the drivers standings, his teammate Webber tied at 109 points with Jenson Button, Hamilton in fourth with 97 and Alonso in fifth with 87. That leaves McLaren in second in the constructors' standings with 206 points to Red Bull's 295. Ferrari trails with 129. Neither Ferrari nor McLaren appear to be in a position to challenge Red Bull at this point, leaving the two challengers fighting each other as the champions speed on towards a second pair of titles. The battle resumes on July 10 with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

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