Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton extended his Formula 1 World Championship lead with a dominant victory in the Spanish Grand Prix, while a late pit-stop cost rival Sebastian Vettel further ground in the title race.
Hamilton started the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from pole position and was in command throughout to lead home team-mate Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes’ first one-two finish of 2018.
Vettel’s race started well, with the Ferrari driver jumping Bottas for second at the first turn. But his fortunes faltered when he was the only frontrunner forced to make a second stop for fresh tyres. While he came in during a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period, he fell behind Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, finishing a subdued fourth behind the Dutchman.
Hamilton, who has now won two races in a row, leads Vettel by 17 points in the championship.
Here’s what else we learned from the Spanish Grand Prix.
Mercedes is back in front (for now)
While Hamilton stuck his car on pole for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Vettel had the edge on pace in that race, and Ferrari has had the edge in terms of race pace. But in Spain it was Mercedes locking out the front row and claiming the one-two finish.
“I hope it can be a turning point,” said Hamilton. “After five races we have a much better understanding of the car, or what we need to do to get it working – but we still have learning to do.”
Ferrari will be concerned by their inability to make their tyres last as long as their rivals. While the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers completed the race making just one stop, Vettel said his Ferrari’s tyre wear meant he had no choice but to make his disastrous second stop.
“It wasn’t an option to stay out,” he said. “We were going through the tyres quicker than the others.”
Verstappen bounces back
After a string of incidents in recent races, Verstappen put in a strong drive to claim third, showing patience while stuck behind slower rivals and then holding off Vettel after the German’s late stop.
Still, perhaps inevitably his race wasn’t entirely devoid of incident: he tagged the lapped Williams of Lance Stroll shortly before the end of the VSC period, damaging his front wing.
His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth despite spinning near the end of the VSC period.
The race featured a multi-car pile-up on the first lap, triggered when Haas driver Romain Grosjean lost control in the Turn 3 right-hander while trying to avoid the back of team-mate Kevin Magnussen’s car and spun, collecting Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) and Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso).
The F1 stewards handed Grosjean a three-place penalty for the next race (Monaco), ruling that his decision to attempt to cut across the track put him into the path of his rivals.
Grosjean defined his action, saying: “I tried to stay on the throttle to spin it and not face everyone. It’s quite a normal human reflex.”
Not every race can be a classic…
The first four races of 2018 featured plenty of drama, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix a particular thriller. The Spanish Grand Prix was a reminder that, no matter how much spit and polish F1’s new bosses put on the sport, not every race is going to be an incident-packed thriller.
Aside from the first lap pile-up and a brief amount of pit-stop uncertainty, the Spanish GP was, frankly, a little bit boring. F1 bosses are working on technical tweaks to boost overtaking for the future. Fingers crossed, etc.
We’re (probably) going to Miami
Since there wasn’t much on-track action to dissect, it’s worth mentioning that a new track could appear on the 2019 calendar: a street race in Miami, US.
F1 bosses confirmed last week that they were in talks with representatives from the Florida city to host a race there, tipped to commence in October next year.
A circuit design has already been released, although it hasn’t won many people over. Hamilton said: “Miami is a super cool place and I was very, very excited to hear about the race – and then I saw the layout…”
Next race: Monaco Grand Prix, 27 May
Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Hamilton wins a wild race