Lewis Hamilton has claimed victory in an enthralling Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix to trim the championship lead to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to just six points.
The Englishman was out-dragged by the German at the start and lost further ground to the Ferrari driver as their second pit stops approached, but ultimately managed to take full advantage of a Virtual Safety Car interruption to make his second pit stop which allowed him to close and then overtake for the lead.
The start of the race saw Vettel make a superb getaway from the dirty side of the grid to lead Hamilton into Turn 1. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen was also quick off the line, but he, Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas tried to go three-wide into the right-hander.
Bottas was on the inside and squeezed onto the apex, but only managed to tip Räikkönen into Verstappen – the pair suffered damaged front suspension as they banged wheels, contributing to near-immediate retirements for the two of them.
Further behind, Felipe Massa took avoiding action to not hit Räikkönen as he and Verstappen rejoined the circuit at Turn 2; the Brazilian was clipped by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren and suffered a front tyre puncture.
That left Vettel out front to quickly set about building a lead over Hamilton, while Bottas and Ricciardo ran third and fourth ahead of the two Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon.
Vettel was able to ease away from Hamilton, while Bottas – suffering from suspected aerodynamic damage stemming form his Turn 1 dramas and having to carry the original power unit he’d run since the start of the season – steadily dropped back.
Pressed into thinking Hamilton was going to switch to a three-stop strategy, Vettel pitted for a second set of soft tyres at the end of Lap 14 and emerged behind Ricciardo and almost immediately overtook the Australian.
With Ferrari having fallen for their bluff, Mercedes tried to keep Hamilton out on track to run a more conventional two-stop strategy and hope that the slower traffic could interfere with Vettel’s run on fresher tyres.
Hamilton lasted for a further five laps before stopping and switching to the slower Medium compound tyres as the Mercedes team hoped to have the race come to them in the final stint.
By now Vettel was being held up by the new race leader Bottas, who was playing a superb team job by holding up the German and allowing Hamilton to rapidly close onto the back of them.
A frustrated Vettel managed to get ahead with a bold dummy and lunge down the inside of the Finn at Turn 1 to reclaim the lead and once again have the task of rebuilding a gap to Hamilton.
The gap extended to over six seconds until Lap 33, when Stoffel Vandoorne guaranteed McLaren would not realise its ambitious hopes of getting both cars to the finish thanks to a clumsy piece of driving.
Battling against the recovering Massa, the Belgian inexplicably turned for the Turn 1 apex with Massa’s faster Williams completely holding the inside line. The pair banged wheels and the rookie driver was out on the spot. With his car parked in a dangerous position in the Turn 1 gravel, a Virtual Safety Car was called.
That critical moment gave Mercedes the window in which to pit Hamilton for a second and final time with minimal penalty. Ferrari elected to pit on the very next lap, but by then the track was under race conditions. That meant that Vettel’s hard-fought lead had evaporated and as he emerged from the pits, he found himself running side-by-side with Hamilton on the run to Turn 1.
Holding the inside line, Vettel gave Hamilton the squeeze at the right-hander and the pair touched. Given the incidents that had contributed to three drivers’ retirements already, it was a high-risk move, but the pair lived to survive another day.
Undeterred, Hamilton regrouped and used his new Soft tyres to close onto the Medium-shod Vettel; five laps after his failed attempt, he took advantage of a healthy DRS-assisted slipstream to ease ahead at Turn 1.
The Englishman was now ahead of Vettel but running on the less-durable tyre, but Hamilton managed to control the gap over the remainder of the race to negate the possibility that Ferrari would switch their driver to a three-stop strategy.
The pair crossed the line 3.4 seconds apart, while almost a lap adrift was Ricciardo, who claimed his first podium finish after Bottas retired his Mercedes when his F1W08’s high-mileage engine cried enough. While Ricciardo’s podium would give the Australian driver and Red Bull Racing some cheer, the enormous gap to the leaders was the worst finishing result it had endured at this highly aero-dependent circuit.
Force India maintained its incredible start to the season – and bulletproof reliability – with Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon finishing fourth and fifth respectively (a career-best result for the latter) to continue the team’s 2017 tradition of having both cars finish in the points at every Grand Prix.
Nico Hülkenberg secured more points for Renault with a strong run to sixth. It was a result that starkly contrasted to teammate Jolyon Palmer, who had a completely anonymous run to finish a poor fifteenth.
Hülkenberg was followed across the finish line by Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein, whose pit stops were timed to perfection by the Swiss team that helped get the German youngster up the order. Wehrlein held incredible defence ahead of a train of cars led by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, but was given a five-second time penalty for a pit entry infringement.
That allowed Sainz Jr to claim seventh after an action-packed drive where he raced wheel-to-wheel with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen as they drag-raced out of the pit lane after their first pit stops.
Magnussen was on course to finish in the points, but copped a puncture late in the race after trying an ambitious dive-bomb on the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat at Turn 4. The contact dropped the Dane out of the points, while a delighted Kvyat – who started from the back row of the grid – claimed ninth ahead of Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean.
After starting a superb seventh on the grid, Fernando Alonso was not expected to threaten the points and ran an ultimately fruitless three-stop strategy. For the first time this season, the Spanish veteran finished the race, not far behind the second Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
The Williams team had an appalling race with neither driver finishing in the points. With rookie Lance Stroll being outclassed by his more experienced teammate Felipe Massa all weekend long, he was never a factor and faded on worn tyres to finish last of the runners in sixteenth.
Teammate Massa tried to recover through the field after his opening-lap puncture, but had further dramas when he was hit by the aforementioned Vandoorne just before halfway through the race.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA PIRELLI 2017 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (66 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||66||1:35:56.497|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||66||+ 3.490|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||66||+ 1:15.820|
|4.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||65||1 lap behind|
|5.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||65||1 lap behind|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||65||1 lap behind|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||65||1 lap behind|
|8.||Pascal Wehrlein*||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||65||1 lap behind|
|9.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||65||1 lap behind|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||65||1 lap behind|
|11.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||64||2 laps behind|
|12.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||64||2 laps behind|
|13.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||64||2 laps behind|
|14.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||64||2 laps behind|
|15.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||64||2 laps behind|
|16.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||64||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||38||Engine|
|DNF.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||32||Collision|
|DNF.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||0||Collision|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- Pascal Wehrlein – who was provisionally classified in seventh place – was awarded a 5-second time penalty for incorrectly crossing the pit lane entry line.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas