A bold overtaking move around the outside of Sebastian Vettel and some clever strategic tyre management from Mercedes handed Lewis Hamilton victory in the Spanish Grand Prix and thinned Vettel’s Formula 1 World Championship lead to six points.
Pole-sitter Hamilton pitted behind the Virtual Safety Car and took full advantage of his stronger tyres to pull to the outside of Vettel through the fast left-hander at Turn 1 before exercising a four-second advantage to the chequered flag.
Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium for Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer with a lonely third, nearly a minute adrift of the winners.
The two leaders made a level start but Vettel’s Ferrari bested Hamilton in the second phase as the cars scaled up through the gears.
Hamilton’s team-mate, Russian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas, found himself on the inside apex with both Kim Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) alongside. Bottas tagged the right-rear wheel of Raikkonen, sending the Finn across into the path of Verstappen. Both drivers were forced to retire with suspension damage, though Bottas continued unharmed.
Felipe Massa was another to suffer at the start after contact with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – who heads to America following the Grand Prix to continue his preparations for the Indianapolis 500 later this month – send the latter off-circuit, and the former back to the pit lane.
Then began a game of cat-and-mouse between the strategists at Mercedes and Ferrari. Vettel pitted on Lap 15 to cover off any threat from Mercedes under-cutting behind. Hamilton, who inherited the lead but started to lose time as his tyre degradation rose, emerged third with Bottas now holding Vettel up at the head of the field.
A lunge to the inside of Turn 1 handed the German back the lead, before Bottas gave Hamilton an altogether easier time of taking second on Lap 26. In holding the Ferrari behind, Bottas gifted Hamilton an advantage of around 3 seconds in his pursuit of the race leader.
A collision at the first corner between McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Massa then brought about the Virtual Safety Car that enabled Hamilton to make the defining strategy call of the race.
As the two cars headed in side-by-side, Vandoorne turned across into the Williams and ended up in the gravel trap with a broken front-right suspension.
Both leaders took the opportunity to stop again, but with Hamilton on the faster, softer compound tyre a change for the race lead became increasingly inevitable.
The move, when it came, was in the form of a bold move to the outside of Vettel with greater straight-line speed into Turn 1.
The three-time world champion then set about extending his advantage over the Ferrari to the end to close the deficit in the World Championship standings.
Team-mate Bottas, however, was forced to park up at two-thirds distance after his engine, which has contested every race of the season so far, failed.
Force India scored their strongest result of the season so far, with Sergio Perez fourth and Esteban Ocon a career-best fifth. Nico Hulkenberg scored a much-needed sixth for Renault, whilst Carlos Sainz Jr. was able to eventually overturn Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein – via a steward’s ruling – after being fended off spectacularly on-circuit.
Sainz’s Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat took ninth, with Haas’ Romain Grosjean rounding out the top ten.
FORMULA 1 SPANISH GRAND PRIX (66 LAPS) – RESULT:
|1||Lewis HAMILTON||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team|
|2||Sebastian VETTEL||Scuderia Ferrari||+3.420s|
|3||Daniel RICCIARDO||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||+1m:15.820s|
|4||Sergio PEREZ||Sahara Force India||+1 lap|
|5||Esteban OCON||Sahara Force India||+1 lap|
|6||Nico HULKENBERG||Renault Sport Formula 1 Team||+1 lap|
|7||Carlos SAINZ JR.||Scuderia Toro Rosso||+1 lap|
|8||Pascal WEHRLEIN||Sauber F1 Team||+1 lap|
|9||Daniil KVYAT||Scuderia Toro Rosso||+1 lap|
|10||Romain GROSJEAN||Haas F1 Team||+1 lap|
|11||Marcus ERICCSON||Sauber F1 Team||+2 laps|
|12||Fernando ALONSO||McLaren-Honda||+2 laps|
|13||Felipe MASSA||Williams Martini Racing||+2 laps|
|14||Kevin MAGNUSSEN||Haas F1 Team||+2 laps|
|15||Jolyon PALMER||Renault Sport F1 Team||+2 laps|
|16||Lance STROLL||Williams Martini Racing||+2 laps|
|DNF||Valtteri BOTTAS||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||Engine failure|
|DNF||Stoffel VANDOORNE||McLaren-Honda||Accident damage|
|DNF||Max VERSTAPPEN||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||Accident damage|
|DNF||Kimi RAIKKONEN||Scuderia Ferrari||Accident damage|