Lewis Hamilton has claimed the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings with his fourth race win in a row, narrowly holding out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The race proved to be something of a slow burner, but the last dozen laps saw the margin between the pair steadily reduce as a determined Rosberg closed down on Hamilton’s lead. The pair crossed the line just six-tenths of a second apart, while Daniel Ricciardo secured his first podium finish.
Barring disaster for the Silver cars, the race was always going to be a Mercedes cakewalk given the clear pace advantage they had enjoyed all weekend. Hamilton and Rosberg had over a second a lap in hand over their rivals, and after they had converted their front-row start into a 1-2 on the sprint to Turn 1, the pair was never headed.
Rosberg shadowed Hamilton throughout the race, with the gap see-sawing between one to six seconds over the course of the race. The German had the quicker car in race conditions, but with overtaking proving difficult at the Circuit de Catalunya, he needed to set himself up for the final phase of the race.
He gambled on an alternate strategy, running three laps longer in his first stint before switching to the Hard Pirelli tyres on his middle stint. Hamilton kept with the Mediums, leaving him on the slower Hard rubber for the run to the chequered flag.
Success or failure for Rosberg hinged on whether he could remain within a couple of seconds of Hamilton while running the Hard rubber before his final pit stop. Hamilton kept a gap of around four seconds, which ultimately proved insurmountable when he peeled into the pits for his final set of tyres.
The last phase saw Rosberg progressively inch closer to Hamilton as the laps counted down, but he ultimately ran out of laps in which to make a move. Hamilton crossed the line just 0.6 seconds clear, giving him the Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time.
It was edge-of-the-seat racing in the closing stages, but there was also plenty of action further down the field.
Ricciardo completed the podium with an ultimately lonely run to third, jumping fast-starting Valtteri Bottas’ Williams in the first pit stop sequence.
Red Bull Racing teammate Sebastian Vettel defied critics who said he couldn’t fight his way through the field by finishing fourth.
After being demoted five grid slots to fifteenth courtesy of a gearbox change penalty, the German tigered his way up the order with a succession of neat passing moves at the end of the back straight.
His success hinged on an early pit stop that helped him get out sequence with the rest of the field and into some all-important clean air, while the rest came down to sheer talent with some very audacious overtaking.
Bottas was his final victim. The Finn was demoted to fifth place in the end, as Williams took a rather too conservative pit strategy and failed to respond to others’ undercutting them in the pit lane.
Fernando Alonso followed Vettel’s tactic of a three-stop strategy – the majority of the field pitted twice, despite Pirelli’s predictions that most would tour the pit lane three times – to finish sixth, and used his fresher tyres to overtake teammate Kimi Räikkönen in the closing stages.
For Räikkönen, this was the strongest performance he’d given since returning to Ferrari, but he was ultimately powerless to stop the crowd favourite from getting ahead.
Romain Grosjean delivered Lotus its first points finish of the season, underlining just how much progress the team and engine partner Renault have made in improving the E22’s performance. The Frenchman ran the twin-tusk car as high as fifth, but a sensor failure late in the race robbed him of crucial pace and he dropped behind the two Ferraris.
The Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the points-paying positions at a track where the team has historically – dating all the way to its Jordan days – struggled. The pair jumped the sluggish McLarens at the start, but the better points haul from Ferrari was enough to demote the Silverstone team to third in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
The McLarens finished outside the points for the third race on the trot, underscoring the dramatic drop in form – and the relative improvement of their rivals – since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The MP4-29s struggled with cornering grip and straight-line speed, leaving Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen as easy pickings down the start/finish straight.
While teammate Bottas pitted two teams, Williams took a three-stop sequence for Felipe Massa as proved the adage that in doing so, one of its drivers would invariably suffer. The Brazilian finished a distant thirteenth ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso and Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus.
Maldonado continued his run of incidents and accidents, tangling early on with Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham and earning himself a five-second stop/go penalty from the stewards for yet more wild driving.
Despite some substantial weight-saving upgrades, the Saubers were still miles off the pace, with Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil the last of the runners to be lapped once.
The Swiss cars weren’t much quicker than the Marussias and Caterhams; Sutil finished ahead of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton, with Ericsson the last of the finishers in twentith place.
The race saw just two retirements. Jean-Éric Vergne already had one mechanical failure when the historic car he was assigned for the drivers’ parade broken down, and his Toro Rosso suffered a similar fate when he had to retire for the third time thie season, this time with a broken exhaust.
Kamui Kobayashi pulled into the pits just past half distance when his Caterham suffered a front brake failure on the approach to Turn 1.
2014 Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (66 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||66||1:41:05.155|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||66||+ 0.636|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||66||+ 49.014|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||66||+ 1:16.702|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||66||+ 1:19.293|
|6.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||66||+ 1:27.743|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||65||1 lap behind|
|8.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||65||1 lap behind|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||65||1 lap behind|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||65||1 lap behind|
|11.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||65||1 lap behind|
|12.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||65||1 lap behind|
|13.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||65||1 lap behind|
|14.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||65||1 lap behind|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||65||1 lap behind|
|16.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||65||1 lap behind|
|17.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||65||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||64||2 laps behind|
|19.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||64||2 laps behind|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||64||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||36||Brakes|
|DNF.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||25||Exhaust|
Images via FOM and Sutton Images