Lewis Hamilton reigned in Spain – just, after an epic battle with Sebastian Vettel that lasted the entirety of the race. Others winners this weekend included Force India and Sauber.
It was a messy start, with Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen making contact going into turn one, suspension damage retired both cars as Vettel crept ahead of Hamilton. Fernando Alonso got off the line well, but took avoiding action and made contact with Felipe Massa, dropping from 7th to 11th.
Felipe Massa suffered a puncture with the contact, his race essentially over as he was demoted to the back. At the front, Sebastian Vettel was 2.5s ahead after one lap, and the gap remained consistent in the opening phase.
Force India were the big winners, Perez and Ocon found themselves running 5th and 6th, on for another strong finish if they could keep Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz and Grosjean behind.
After 10 laps, it was shaping up to be a a two horse race for the win, with a 7-second gap between Hamilton in 2nd and Bottas in 3rd. Daniel Ricciardo was in 4th, clearly comfortable ahead for the Force Indias behind, but struggling to make gains on Bottas ahead, who was being given the hurry up over team radio.
Fernando Alonso boxed on lap 13, he had been complaining about being held up by Grosjean ahead, which is something we haven’t heard all year regarding McLaren-Honda. He came in for some soft compounds, hoping to undercut the Haas/Sainz battle ahead. It didn’t work, but Alonso was much closer to the battle ahead, Magnussen and Sainz slowed each other down in the pits with a pit-lane side by side game of chicken.
On lap 15, Vettel took to the pits as Mercedes stayed out. The gap that remains for Red Bull in terms of performance was no more apparent than with the ease in which the German driver overtook Ricciardo on the pit straight for 3rd.
Meanwhile, at the front, Hamilton sounded like he was being given a proper work out as he pushed at the front, the physical toll of the new cars, although Vettel was catching at a rate of two-seconds per lap on fresh rubber.
Further back, a rare sight as Stoffel Vandoorne claimed 16th from Jolyon Palmer on the straight. On lap 22, Hamilton entered the pits for fresh rubber, the medium compound meaning he would have opportunities towards the end of the race on better rubber.
At the front, Valtteri Bottas was playing the team game, holding up Vettel as Hamilton reduced the gap, gaining three seconds in catching Vettel on lap 24. at the start of lap 25, Vettel pulled a a double dummy on Bottas ahead, releasing the Ferrari car, once Hamilton had overtaken the Finn on old rubber too, the gap between the title protagonists was four-seconds.
After 28 laps, Vandoorne, Massa and Palmer had already been lapped. Pascal Wehrlein hadn’t pitted yet in his Sauber, and was running well in 7th. It looked like the Swiss team were trying to pull of a one-stop strategy, with nothing to lose and the chance to get ahead of McLaren in the Constructor standings.
On lap 31, the gap had increased to 6 seconds between Vettel and Hamilton, the Brit had been assured that he could close in on the final stint, the race looked like it would go to the driver that could make both compounds work the most effectively.
Then, a strategy shaking incident for the leaders on lap 34, it looked like Stoffel Vandoorne tried to avenge Alonso after his earlier incident with Massa by turning in on the Brazilian. The virtual safety car was deployed, neutralising the gaps up and down the grid. Hulkenberg and Wehrlein were having a battle in the pits on the lap of the incident, the Renault team managed to get Hulkenberg out but Wehrlein emerged in net 8th, a very competitive position for Sauber as he heavily defended from the hunting Toro Rosso of Sainz.
Hamilton crucially pitted under VSC for the soft tyres whilst Ferrari opted to keep Vettel out. Vettel stopped the following lap, but the VSC was no longer active so the pack was at full speed whilst he was stationary in the pits, meaning the 6-second advantage the Ferrari driver had built on the soft compound was gone, and the two leading drivers were neck and neck going into turn one. Hamilton was squeezed out, but the gap was less than a second and Hamilton had the tyre advantage.
Hamilton was well into the DRS zone, and was looking to take advantage on the straights, but traffic ahead was neutralising his DRS as Vettel was able to deploy it too.
On lap 39, Valtteri Bottas unfortunately retired from the race with what looked like an engine blow-up, promoting Daniel Ricciardo, who was 53-seconds behind the fight for 1st. Perez was 4th and Ocon 5th, Hulkenberg 6th, Wehrlein 7th, Sainz 8th, Magnussen 9th and Grosjean 10th.
on lap 42, Hamilton was still within a second in what was shaping up to be an incredible fight for victory. Hamilton had to get the job done whilst the advantage was still alive on the softs. The Brit’s break finally came on lap 44, of all the lap numbers… He was also up by 2.2s after another lap.
Pascal Wehrlein was still heavily defending from Carlos Sainz for 7th, but the Sauber driver had been given a 5s penalty for a pit-lane mishap, which undid all of his hard work.
At the front, it was crucial that Hamilton tried to build a lead, as his tyres would run out of competitive rubber before Vettel on the mediums, the gap was stable at 1.9s on lap 49, but the fight for the win was clearly just having a break, and wasn’t over.
By lap 53, the gap was 2.5s at the front as Ferrari toyed with another pit-stop. Further back, Marcus Ericsson passed Lance Stroll for 12th, Sauber were having a very competitive race, especially given that they didn’t have any upgrades on the C36 this weekend.
On lap 60, Vettel suddenly started finding time, he was 0.7s quicker, reducing the gap to 3 seconds, but once again, it was in lapping Felipe Massa that the German lost time. The Ferrari driver seemed to out brake himself as Massa left the door open. On lap 65, Kevin Magnussen suffered a puncture after contact with Daniil Kvyat. It demoted the Dane out of the points and promoted Grosjean into 10th.
Hamilton crossed the line having endured massive pressure from Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing 3rd, a minute behind the leading two. Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished 4th and 5th respectively, a very impressive result that narrows the gap to Red Bull in the Constructors.
Nico Hulkenberg finished 6th, another strong finish for one of the Renault cars, with Pascal Wehrlein securing 7th, but being demoted to 8th after a five second penalty. A fantastic weekend for Sauber when it looked like they would really struggle on paper. The points finish is Pascal Wehrlein’s best ever in Formula One, and Sauber jump McLaren in the Constructors.
Sainz finished 8th but was promoted to 7th, it was disappointing that he couldn’t get past Wehrlein much earlier and Possibly catch Hulkenberg, but with Daniil Kvyat in 9th securing a double points finish for Toro Rosso after a qualifying session in which neither car made Q3, they can take that. Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten.
The race was a great advert for F1 at the front of the grid, with the fight between Hamilton and Vettel lasting the entirety of the race, they always had one another in their sights. But the gap to Ricciardo and the rest of the pack was staggering, suggesting that we have a slightly improved two-tier Formula 1 in 2017, with two teams dominating rather than one.
The gap in the driver standings gets tighter with Hamilton’s victory in Spain, Vettel now leads the Brit by 6-points. In the Constructors, Mercedes lead Ferrari with 161 points to 153, Red Bull remain 3rd on 72 points, but the gap back to 4th has reduced to 19-points with Force India setting a huge benchmark for the chasing pack, they’re now on 53 points, with plenty of daylight between them and Williams in 5th, on 19 points.