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Spanish Grand Prix: Hamilton’s demolition job

Lewis Hamilton led home his teammate Valtteri Bottas to claim a one-two for Mercedes at the Spanish Grand Prix, the Silver Arrows showing the devastating pace and dominance of old, a marked step-up in performance since Baku as the first leg of the European season gets underway.

Apart from a first lap crash that eliminated three drivers on the spot, the race turned into a procession as Hamilton powered into the distance, Bottas crossed the line 20 seconds behind with no way to challenge the reigning world champion, leaving their rivals in their wake.

The first lap melee ensued when the field powered clumsily through the Turn 1 – Turn 2, cars darting into gaps, the Haas of Romain Grosjean drifted wide, got loose and spun the Frenchman across the track and crashed into the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and clipped the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly.

For some reason, Grosjean kept his foot down and causing his tyres to burn-out and smoke up which blinded the drivers behind him.

By the time the dust had settled Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Gasly were out.

At the front, Hamilton will have seldom won a grand prix with such ease and his third victory in Barcelona sees him extend his lead in the world championship to 17 points over Sebastian Vettel. 

Hamilton said afterwards, “I couldn’t have done it without this incredible team. These guys have done an amazing job and I’m just really proud of everyone.”

“Today the car and myself, I felt that synergy which I hadn’t been feeling for the whole year. It’s a good feeling. This is when we’re going to start trying to continue to apply the pressure. A one-two for the team. I hope we can continue.”

Bottas added, “I wanted to fight for the win but as a team it’s such a good race. We had such a good car and the team were so reactive today with the strategy. I never believed we could do a one-stop but we could, so I’m happy.”

Max Verstappen survived clipping the back of Lance Stroll’s Williams, to claim third place. Capitalising on a strange strategy call by Ferrari to leapfrog Sebastian Vettel and then hold off the German until the chequered flag waved to end the race.

Verstappen summed up his afternoon, “The car was working really well. It’s really hard to pass but we just stayed close to everyone in front of us. We got the luck with Kimi retiring. But the tyres were handling really well so I think that gave us third today.”

Ferrari took a gamble with Vettel by stopping him a second time, during a VSC period but for some reason, he could not make a dent on Verstappen’s third place in the final chase to the line.

Fourth place was Vettel’s reward for his day at the office, on a forgettable day for Ferrari who retired Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn lost power and spluttered around to his garage before they switched off the car.

Danel Ricciardo was unable to match the pace of his teammate in third, but did show flashes of speed as late in the race he was among the fastest out on track. Fifth was his reward.

Haas and Kevin Magnussen continued to impress, the Dane not putting a foot wrong on his way to a lonely sixth place.

Carlos Sainz survived the first lap confusion and thereafter gave a solid display to finish seventh, ahead of fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso who claimed eighth place after a day he spent racing while praying for rain, but despite some ominous clouds the rain never came. 

Ninth place went to Force India’s Sergio Perez, who was again solid despite the attrition with Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc again boosting his shares with an impressive performance on his way to claiming the final point.

Blow-By-Blow Report

Vettel had stolen second place from Bottas in a dramatic start to the race, but the German then pitted early to change to medium tyres. Red Bull’s chasing drivers meanwhile went deep into the race before taking on fresh tyres and when a Virtual Safety Car was deployed after Force India’s Ocon stopped at the side of the track, Ferrari elected to pit Vettel for more tyres.

He ceded position to Bottas and Verstappen but in the late stages of the race he couldn’t find a way back past the Red Bull and he was forced to settle for fourth.

When the lights went out for the start, Vettel got away well and using the slipstream created by the Mercedes ahead the German rounded Bottas on the outside to steal P2. Further back, Haas’ Magnussen had to correct in mid-corner in Turn 3 and directly behind his team-mate Romain Grosjean was forced to brake hard.

The Frenchman went into a spin, sliding off the track and then back on – into the path of Renault’s Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Gasly. The collision was significant, though all three drivers escaped unhurt.

With debris scattered across the track and three cars requiring removal, the Safety Car was called into action and stayed on track until the end of lap six.

On the re-start the frontrunners all held their position, with Hamilton leading Vettel ahead of Bottas, Räikkönen and the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo, Further back McLaren’s Alonso was the only driver to make a significant gain in the re-start, passing Force India’s Ocon to claim the final points position of tenth.

The race then settled until Vettel triggered the pit stops at the end of lap 17. The German took on mediums and rejoined in P7 ahead of SAI. Mercedes responded, pitting Bottas, who also took mediums, but a slow stop, allied to Vettel blasting past Magnussen into Turn meant the Finn could no pass the Ferrari.

Räikkönen caused the next shift in the order on lap 24. Verstappen, who was right behind the Finn reported that the Ferrari had some kind of engine problem and within moments Räikkönen slowed dramatically.

Verstappen and Ricciardo blasted past the Ferrari as Räikkönen was told the stop the car but the Finn eventually brought his car back to pit lane where he retired from the race.

Ahead Hamilton pitted at the end of lap 25, taking on medium tyres and slotting into P2 behind new leader Verstappen, though the Red Bull and third-placed team-mate Ricciardo needed to pit.

The Australian was the first of the Red Bulls to pit, at the end of lap 33, with Verstappen pitting a lap later. Both took on medium tyres to go to the end of the race. The order now saw Hamilton lead Vettel by 10 seconds with Bottas third ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. The Red Bulls though had much fresher rubber than either Vettel or Bottas, both of whom had made early stops for new tyres.

On lap 41 Esteban Ocon pulled over at the side of the track and the VSC was deployed. During the cautionary period Ferrari responded to the Red Bull threat and decided to pit Vettel for new mediums. The German rejoined in fourth place between the two Red Bulls as Bottas moved into P2 ahead of Verstappen.

The Dutch driver hit trouble after the VSC withdrew, however. He clipped the back of Lance Stroll’s Williams as he attacked the backmarker and damaged his front wing. That might have given Vettel hope but with Verstappen told that his wing was “structurally OK” despite end-plate damage, the gap widened, with Verstappen stretching his advantage over Vettel to 2.1s by lap 49.

The pair repeatedly traded personal bests over the following laps but Vettel could find no way to close in on Verstappen and Ferrari were left to rue ceding track position to Mercedes and Red Bull.

At the front, Hamilton was untouchable, powering to his 64th career win with more than 18 seconds in hand over his second-placed team-mate. Despite Vettel’s attentions, Verstappen was faultless over the final laps and claimed Red Bull Racing’s 150th podium finish with 0.7s seconds in hand over the sole remaining Ferrari.

Ricciardo added 10 points to Red Bull’s haul with fifth place, while Kevin Magnussen finished sixth for Haas ahead of Renault’s Carlos Sainz. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso took his fifth points finish of the season with eighth place ahead of Force India’s Sergio Pérez. Tenth place went to Sauber’s Charles Leclerc who scored points for the second race in a row.

2018 Spanish Grand Prix FIA Official Documents & Information