Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with a dominant display, going unchallenged en route to his second victory of the Formula 1 season.
Hamilton was able to convert pole position into victory with relative ease, leading home a one-two finish for Mercedes ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas as Ferrari struggled to manage its Pirelli tyres, forcing title contender Sebastian Vettel into an additional pit stop that cost him a possible podium finish.
Despite the FIA reporting an 80 percent chance of rain pre-race, conditions remained dry throughout, with Hamilton’s biggest threats coming in the form of one Safety Car and one Virtual Safety Car period.
Neither of those could derail Hamilton, who delivered arguably his most complete performance of the 2018 season so far to extend his drivers’ championship lead to 17 points over Vettel.
STORY OF THE RACE
Hamilton was able to retain his advantage off the line and keep the lead through Turn 1, but lost Bottas as his rear gunner when Sebastian Vettel swooped around the outside of the corner to seize second position.
Chaos ensued further back as Romain Grosjean’s Haas tipped into a spin, careering back across the circuit into the path of the oncoming cars. Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg could do nothing to avoid the Frenchman, resulting in a big crash that ended all three drivers’ races. Thankfully, they all walked away from their vehicles unharmed.
The Safety Car was soon deployed following the crash, with the race going back to green on Lap 7 once the debris had been cleared. A mistake from Vettel coming out the final chicane allowed Hamilton some breathing room on the restart, with the Mercedes driver quickly bolting and moving out of DRS range, building a comfortable gap in the laps that followed.
Running more than six seconds in arrears to Hamilton and with Bottas hovering less than two seconds behind, Vettel was the first of the leaders to come into the pits at the end of Lap 17, moving onto Medium tyres. As he emerged from the pits in the dirty air of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, the door was opened for Bottas to try and get the jump for second place.
Bottas put the hammer down and looked set to move clear as he pitted two laps later, but a slow stop proved costly. After sitting stationary for 3.9 seconds, Bottas emerged from the pits behind Magnussen and Vettel, with the latter threading between both cars at Turn 1 to move ahead. By the time Bottas passed Magnussen, Vettel was almost two seconds up the road.
With Hamilton still running quickly at the front, Mercedes opted to keep the drivers’ championship leader out for a few more laps, eventually calling him in at the end of Lap 25. Also running on a set of fresh Mediums, Hamilton emerged from the pits in second behind Max Verstappen, who was yet to stop, but was running more than 10 seconds clear of Vettel.
Vettel was left to fly the flag single-handedly for Ferrari when Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire from the race, reporting a loss of power while defending position from Verstappen. Despite running slowly on-track, the Finn was able to get his sick car back to the pits, preventing a Safety Car period from being called.
Hamilton quickly began to close on Verstappen thanks for his fresher tyres, yet Red Bull showed few signs of wishing to bring either of its drivers into the pits as both continue to lap well. Mercedes’ pit wall informed Bottas that both Verstappen and Ricciardo “were a threat” as they were one-stopping.
Ricciardo came in for his solitary pit stop at the end of Lap 33, also taking a set of Mediums. Hamilton continued to toil behind Verstappen for another lap before the Dutchman came in from the lead, finally releasing his Mercedes into clean air.
Hamilton’s lead over Vettel now stood at more than 12 seconds, but both drivers were getting uneasy about going to the end of the race on their existing set of Mediums.
Both Mercedes and Ferrari were forced into a decision on Lap 42 when a Virtual Safety Car was called following a stoppage for Esteban Ocon at Turn 5, who was forced to park up with smoke coming out the rear of his Force India.
With Vettel saying his rear tyres were “not feeling super-duper”, Ferrari decided to bring the German driver in for a fresh set of Mediums. A slow stop meant Vettel came back out on-track in fourth, losing a place to both Bottas and Verstappen.
When the VSC ended, Hamilton found himself running more than 14 seconds clear of Bottas, with Verstappen 10 more further back. The Red Bull driver had a brief scare when lapping Lance Stroll under the VSC, damaging his front-wing endplate after touching the right-rear of the Williams. Red Bull reported that it was only endplate damage and decided to keep Verstappen out despite elements breaking off through the final corner, with Vettel lurking two seconds behind.
Up front, Mercedes worked closely with both Hamilton and Bottas to manage their pace in case of a late Safety Car, but their concerns ultimately proved to be unfounded.
Hamilton crossed the line 20 seconds clear of Bottas to record his second win of the season and extend his drivers’ championship lead as Mercedes recorded its first one-two finish of the year.
Verstappen was able to hang on to third place despite his front wing damage, with the decision to pit later meaning his tyres remained fresh to the end as just 0.7 seconds separated them at the chequered flag. Daniel Ricciardo took fifth place after dropping back due to a spin on the restart at the hairpin, causing him to finish more than 20 seconds off Vettel and Verstappen.
In the battle to top the midfield, Kevin Magnussen was able to bring home sixth place for Haas after something of a lonely race, pulling clear of the cars behind early on before making a one-stop strategy work perfectly.
A poor start left Alonso scrambling behind Sauber’s Charles Leclerc for much of the race, only to catch the rookie out on the restart from the Virtual Safety Car and grab the position. He brought home McLaren’s only points after teammate Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to retire with 19 laps to go following a loss of power on the main straight.
Besides Vettel, Sergio Perez was the only other driver to pit for a second time under the VSC, with the Mexican driver putting his fresher tyres to good use to pass Leclerc for ninth with seven laps to go, bringing home two points for Force India in the process.
Despite losing out to Alonso and Perez, Leclerc was able to bring home a point for Sauber in P10, which following his charge to sixth in Baku gave the team points in consecutive races for the first time since October 2015.
Stroll finished 11th for Williams ahead of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, who ended a difficult weekend in 12th for Toro Rosso. Sauber’s Marucs Ericsson took 13th despite running up into the points towards the end of his first stint, finishing ahead of Sergey Sirotkin, who was the last classified finisher in P14.
The 2018 Formula 1 season continues in two weeks’ time with the Monaco Grand Prix on May 24-27.