By Andrew Benson-Chief F1 writer at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes stole a stunning victory in the Spanish Grand Prix from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
A clever strategic move by the team followed by Hamilton attacking and passing Vettel put the Briton in control and he defended successfully to the end.
Vettel had passed Hamilton off the start line to lead for the first half of the race but ended up out-flanked by their rivals.
Hamilton’s second win of the season cut his deficit to Vettel in the championship to six points after five of 20 races.
There was plenty of incident on the first lap, leading to Raikkonen and Verstappen colliding and both retiring
Why was it such a great race?
It was a tense and gripping battle befitting the closeness of the fight between Formula 1’s top teams this season.
Vettel took control of the race with a superb start, sweeping around the outside of Hamilton into Turn One and building a 2.2-second lead with a blistering first lap.
When Ferrari beat Mercedes to making the first pit stop, preventing Hamilton passing by stopping earlier and benefiting from fresh tyres, the race appeared to be Vettel’s to lose and Mercedes to win.
Mercedes switched strategies, putting Hamilton on a long middle stint on the slower medium tyre, the idea being to attack Vettel at the end of the race, when Hamilton would be on the soft tyre and the Ferrari on the medium.
They then bought themselves some time by delaying the first pit stop of Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas so he could hold up Vettel for a couple of laps.
Vettel’s amazing double dummy overtake
Vettel’s delay behind Bottas brought Hamilton’s deficit to the Ferrari down by four seconds but the German limited the damage with a stunning passing move on the Finn into Turn One.
Vettel dummied to the inside, then the outside, before diving down the inside, his wheels brushing the grass, to grasp the lead and apparently take another step towards victory.
What went on in Spain…
Vettel’s aggressive defensive move
The race turned during a period of the virtual safety car, when cars are forced to lap at controlled speeds while a car is cleared from a dangerous spot.
This was to remove Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren, which went off at the first corner after a collision with Massa.
The VSC was in play for two laps and Mercedes waited until it was just about to end to pit Hamilton for a set of soft tyres.
The move was an inspired gamble with 30 laps still to go, a tough task on the soft tyre.
Ferrari responded to Mercedes by stopping Vettel for the final time a lap later and he rejoined from the pits as Hamilton pounded down the pit straight.
They went into the first corner side by side and Vettel forced Hamilton off the track at Turn One as he defended his lead.
Vettel pushed Hamilton off track as he came out of the pits. A move Hamilton knows plenty about himself…
Hamilton’s crucial overtake
Hamilton now had to pass Vettel on a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
He pressured Vettel hard for the next seven laps before getting close enough to try for a pass at the start of lap 44. Hamilton was close enough at the final corner to get the DRS overtaking aid and he swept by Vettel around the outside into Turn One.
Hamilton, who sounded breathless and anxious on the radio throughout the race, tensely asked his team what he needed to do in terms of building a gap while also protecting his tyres, and Ferrari briefly considered switching strategy to make an extra stop.
But he controlled his pace exquisitely to take his 55th win and almost certainly one of his best.
That’s Hamilton’s second Spanish GP win, equal with Ayrton Senna, above pipping Nigel Mansell to the 1986 win by a millisecond. Source: Forix
Minnows pick up vital points
After helping Hamilton out, Bottas looked set for third place but he broke down with an engine failure on lap 39.
His retirement handed third place to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, a huge 73 seconds behind Hamilton and Vettel.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen retired on the first lap after a collision at the first corner as they went three-abreast with Bottas.
Force India took fourth and fifth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg seventh.
What happened to Alonso?
Meat and greet: Alonso walks over to the fans before the race – inexplicably carrying a leg of ham
Fernando Alonso had a dispiriting day 24 hours after thrilling his home fans and impressing the paddock with a stunning seventh place on the grid.
The McLaren driver dropped to 10th on the first lap when he was forced wide and off the track at the second corner by Williams’ Felipe Massa and had to drive through the gravel to rejoin.
Alonso will fly overnight to America to start his assault on the Indianapolis 500, for which he is missing the next race in Monaco, where Jenson Button will come out of retirement to substitute for him.
Driver of the day
Vettel did little wrong – and his race included that superb pass on Bottas – but it’s hard to look past Hamilton. After the decisive strategy move, he did the right thing in avoiding a collision with Vettel as the Ferrari came out of the pits and he tracked Vettel superbly and pulled off his own great pass to take one of his greatest wins.
What happens next?
Monaco, in two week’s time. It’s impossible to predict what will happen on the claustrophobic streets of Monaco in this see-saw battle between Mercedes and Ferrari.
Hamilton said earlier in the year he thought the shorter Ferrari might be more agile there, but the Mercedes was the fastest car through the tight final sector of Barcelona’s lap so another close battle is almost certainly in store.