Having inherited victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix’s final laps, Lewis Hamilton needed to prove to himself – perhaps more so than his doubters – that he and Mercedes are true championship contenders for the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship season.
The Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – the series’ longstanding test track – proved to be the Silver Arrows’ happy hunting ground after an opening sequence of four flyaway races that have largely dispelled pre-season opinion that the Mercedes F1W09 was an unstoppable force.
Sunday’s Grand Prix in Spain was a battle of strategy. Pirelli’s tyre compounds showed little variance in performance or speed, but proved difficult to warm up. Being on the right tyres at the right time would prove critical, particularly given the Mercedes cars in particular had struggled with tyre warm-up to-date.
The silver cars seemed to show little of this trait in qualifying when Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas locked out the front row in qualifying. Their 1-2 finish of the season was equally flawless in its execution – an outcome the team has craved all season – while their rivals Ferrari were wrong-footed by a poor strategy and unreliability.
Hamilton’s chief rival Sebastian Vettel could manage no better than fourth place, dropping him 17 points behind the Englishman in the Drivers’ Championship fight.
Starting from the cleaner side of the grid allowed Vettel to jump Bottas into second on the long run to Turn 1, but Hamilton’s getaway proved too good and it allowed him to convert his pole position into the lead.
The race was almost immediately neutralised by a Safety Car following a multi-car crash at Turn 3. The chief culprit was Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who reacted to teammate Kevin Magnussen’s twitchy car through Turn 3 and ran wide. The Frenchman lost the rear of his own car and in his efforts to catch the slide he planted the throttle and was spun backwards across the track and into the path of the rest of the cars behind him.
Unsighted among the tyre smoke, Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly were left with nowhere to go and plowed into the Frenchman. All three drivers were out on the spot with damage strewn across the width of the track.
Once the clean-up was finished, the race resumed on Lap 7 with Hamilton immediately gapping the field and extending his lead to over seven seconds by the time Vettel made his first pit stop.
Vettel struggled to get his Medium tyres up to temperature and had a slow out-lap, and with second-placed Bottas pumping out fast sector times it looked like the Finn might get the jump once his pit stop was complete. That didn’t pan out, however, as the Mercedes team had a slow pit stop which allowed Vettel to keep an effective second place.
On Lap 25, Kimi Räikkonen retired his Ferrari from fourth place with a suspected engine issue. Worryingly this came after Ferrari had fitted a new power unit to the Finn’s car after Friday practice.
By this stage Hamilton had pitted and switched to the Medium compound tyres. Given Mercedes’ outstanding pre-season testing had shown they could run long distances on the rubber, it looked for all intents and purposes that Hamilton had no need to visit the pits for the rest of the 66-lap race.
On Lap 40, Esteban Ocon parked his smoking Force India on the side of the track, prompting a Virtual Safety Car. Ferrari reacted by pitting Vettel for a second time in the hope it could gain track position as it had managed to do in Australia, but its strategy call proved to be in error as the German emerged in fourth place behind Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who did not stop.
Vettel’s fresh Medium tyres allowed him to quickly catch and close up on Verstappen – who was running with a missing front wing endplate after tagging a Williams at the VSC restart – but Verstappen managed to keep Vettel at bay over the remainder of the race to claim a confidence-boosting first podium of the season.
Up front, Hamilton cruised serenely to victory, finishing over 20 seconds clear of his teammate. Vettel chased Verstappen over the finish line in fourth, while fifth-placed Daniel Ricciardo was the last of the runners on the lead lap.
Ricciardo finished a distant fifth, the last of the runners on the lead lap, after spinning his Red Bull at the VSC restart. It was an uncharacteristic error from the Australian, but he still managed to post the fastest lap of the race near the end.
Magnussen won ‘best of the rest’ honours behind the big three teams with a flawless drive to sixth place. The Dane finished ahead of local driver Carlos Sainz Jr., who nursed his Renault over the finish line after it suffered a fuel problem in the closing laps.
Crowd favourite Fernando Alonso was predictably dogged, recovering from being forced off-track on the opening lap at Turn 1 to finish eighth ahead of Force India’s Sergio Pérez.
Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc was again impressive, claiming back-to-back points finishes in tenth after a fine drive.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA EMIRATES 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (66 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||66||1:35:25.972|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||66||+ 20.593|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||66||+ 26.873|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||66||+ 27.584|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||66||+ 50.058|
|6.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||65||1 lap behind|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||65||1 lap behind|
|8.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||65||1 lap behind|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||64||2 laps behind|
|10.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||64||2 laps behind|
|11.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||64||2 laps behind|
|12.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||64||2 laps behind|
|13.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||64||2 laps behind|
|14.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||63||3 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||45||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||38||Radiator|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||25||Turbo|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||0||Collision|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||61||1:18.441|
Romain Grosjean was handed a 3-place grid penalty for causing the multi-car collision on Lap 1.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team