Hamilton reigns in Spain after besting Vettel in thrilling duel; Riccardo third for Red Bull
In the young season’s best race so far, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton gave everything he had to come out on top in a mano-a-mano duel with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. Hamilton started on pole but made a less than spectacular getaway that saw him quickly passed by Vettel as the lights went out. But Hamilton survived a big bottleneck in Turn 1, which was more than could be said for Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s young phenom Max Verstappen. With Mercedes’ second driver Valtteri Bottas looking for an advantage over Raikonnen on the inside at that pivotal first bend, the two cars touched wheels. That sent Raikonnen’s blood red Ferrari across the track and into the ambitious Vestappen’s Red Bull, who had also stuck his nose into the melee on the outside, terminally damaging both vehicles’ suspensions. In less than a lap, two premier runners were out of the race and Vettel had lost a crucial ally.
Nevertheless, Vettel swanned away from the pack and up the road, leaving Hamilton to bide his time and settle in for the chase. Vettel pitted early on Lap 14 for another set of the better performing soft tires, on which he had started the race, while Mercedes ran both Hamilton and Bottas longer, with Hamilton going to Lap 21 and then switching to the slower but more durable medium compound Pirellis. And with Bottas yet to come in that enabled the Finn to hold up Vettel somewhat when the German Ferrari man was desperate to put as much distance between himself & Hamilton while on the superior soft rubber. That small impedance by the second Silver Arrow may have proved pivotal as Hamilton did not lose as much time as he might have without Bottas’ entirely legal obstructions. Vettel managed to pass the Finn on Lap 25 and Bottas subsequently let his teammate by quickly and then came to the pits for his first stop and his own set of medium tires on Lap 28, indicating that Mercedes were committing to a 2-stop strategy for both their cars while the sole remaining Ferrari’s options remained open.
And then Mercedes, which had been caught flat-footed in the season opener that saw Ferrari outsmart them for a Vettel win in Australia, had the strategic coup of the race. With a Virtual Safety Car deployed for McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne’s off on Lap 36, Hamilton was quickly called into the pits for a switch back to soft tires. When Vettel then pitted under normal race conditions on Lap 38 for his mediatory switch to the medium tires, the German came out of the blend line only just in front of Hamilton’s charging Silver Arrow. The two elites of the field were now neck-and-neck for the next few laps, with the Ferrari ace even forcefully shoving Hamilton over and partially off the track to maintain his lead at one point. Meanwhile Hamilton also lost his teammate, as Bottas’ rebuilt engine blew on Lap 40, making the Mercedes team’s decision not to switch to a new one for the race look questionable. But in the here and now that meant it was down to Vettel versus Hamilton for victory in Spain and no one else.
And on Lap 44 of the 66 lap contest, Hamilton finally seized his opportunity, using his faster rubber and DRS down the start/finish straight to easily pass Vettel’s Ferrari. Now the question was whether Hamilton could muscle his car around the demanding Catalunya circuit for 12 more laps on his more rapidly degrading yellow-banded soft tires. That quandary led Vettel and his race engineers to ponder an extra stop for new soft tires of their own but as the laps dwindled it became clear that they had crunched the numbers and didn’t think such a gamble would work. Despite his audible shortness of breath from the extra G-forces that these new 2017 high-downforce, wide-tire cars generate versus last year’s spec, Hamilton was able to extend the life of his tries while still pulling out his advantage over Vettel as both men fought through lapped traffic. In the end, Hamilton crossed the line over 3 seconds to the good after an exhausting but exhilarating battle that saw him start from pole, lose his lead and then claw it all back for the victory with clever pit strategy, a little bit of luck with the Safety Car and determined driving when it really counted. The Briton’s win also sliced Vettel’s Championship lead down to a mere 6 points. The dual between these two titans of the sport is looking like one for the ages and it should go right down make Monaco even more interesting than usual. One thing’s for sure: if the rest of the races are anything like this battle in Barcelona was we are in for a rare treat.
Top 10 finishers at the Spanish Grand Prix:
|3||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||66||+75.820s||15|
|4||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||65||+1 lap||12|
|5||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||65||+1 lap||10|
|7||55||TORO ROSSO||65||+1 lap||6|
|8||94||SAUBER FERRARI||65||+1 lap||4|
|9||26||TORO ROSSO||65||+1 lap||2|
|10||8||HAAS FERRARI||65||+1 lap||1|
The next tilt is in two weeks time from the storied Monte Carlo street circuit in Monaco. The perfect appetizer to Memorial Day’s feast of motorsport Monaco is never a Grand Prix to be missed. And with Hamilton versus Vettel heating up as one of the best inter-team rivalries in years, the street fight in the principality could be another pivotal moment in their road to the championship. Hope to see you then!