SPANISH GRAND PRIX – 14TH May 2017
“He was tough and hard to the edge and no more…that is how racing should be and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” (Hamilton on Vettel)
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
4. Sergio Perez (Force India)
5. Esteban Ocon (Force India)
6. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
7. Carlos Sainz Jr (Toro Rosso)
8. Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber)
9. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
10. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
The Circuit de Catalunya. The cars have been tweaked. Hamilton is in pole.
Vettel passed Hamilton off the line, building up a 2.2 second lead during the first lap and so the chase began. In a track famously difficult for overtaking; we were treated to a couple of spectacular, timely passes in a game of cat and mouse. This game culminated in a stunning victory for Hamilton, assisted by a very clever strategic move by Mercedes.
It was Hamilton’s 2nd win this season. Now just 6 points divides him and Vettel. It was Hamilton’s 55th win in Formula One and arguably one of his best. He lost 4 ½ pounds of weight during this exhausting race. Hamilton and Vettel were a different class to the other drivers, with 75 seconds separating Ricciardo and Vettel.
Was this incredible two car battle indicative of how the rest of the season will pan out?
When Ferrari made the 1st pit, Hamilton was prevented from passing, stopping earlier and benefitting from fresh tyres. The race now looked firmly in Vettel’s control, but Mercedes were to pull off their best strategic performance yet this season…
The plan was to put Hamilton on a long middle stint on the slower medium tyre. Then to attack Vettel at the end of the race when Hamilton was on soft tyres and Ferrari were on mediums. Delaying Bottas in the 1st pit helped to hold Vettel up, but the German responded with a stunning pass into Turn 1.
It was the virtual safety car following Stoffel Vandoorne’s crash with Massa that became the pivotal moment on which the race turned and Mercedes were handed their opportunity.
“the magic call was the one to take the pit stop at a time when it looked like the VSC (virtual safety car) would end soon.” (Toto Wolff)
Mercedes pitted Hamilton for a set of soft tyres. With 30 laps to go – it was asking a lot of the soft tyre, but it turned out to be a risk worth taking.
Ferrari pitted Vettel a lap later. And then the real battle commenced.
Vettel came out of the pits wheel to wheel with Hamilton, but squeezed him off the track at Turn 1 and maintained his lead. For the next 7 laps Hamilton put Vettel under intense pressure. By Lap 44 he was close enough and gaining momentum, managed to sweep around the outside into Turn 1 and take the lead.
In response Vettel was heard to say over the radio, “no chance, no chance, he was like a train.”
Hamilton then proceeded to lead a masterclass in defending from the front, despite having to protect his tyres.
“We were hoping he would struggle with his tyres at the end but he did not have any problems.” (Vettel)
Bottas had looked set for 3rd until he went out with engine failure on Lap 39, failing to capitalise on his debut win in Russia.
The race was over before it started for Verstappen and Raikkonen as they collided with Bottas on Lap 1. Verstappen believed that the blame lay with Bottas: “I tried around the outside and I think if Valtteri didn’t touch Kimi we would have given each other space.”
Force India’s Perez took 4th Perez and Ocon 5th. It was the 5th race in a row that the team have had both drivers in the points.
Sauber scored their 1st point this season with Wehrlein coming 8th.
Alonso’s disappointing run continued. In practice, he had impressed with 7th place on the grid; but during the race he dropped to 10th on Lap 1 and retired early due to problems with his Honda power unit. He has failed to finish a race this season due to this recurring problem.
Next up, Monaco!