Spanish Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has won the Spanish GP, having taken the lead away from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium in P3.
Hot and sunny conditions greeted the drivers for the start of the race, which proved to one of the messier we’ve seen in recent times. Sebastian Vettel was able to cleanly outdrag Lewis Hamilton on the long run down to Turn 1, snatching the lead of the race, with Hamilton settling for P2 as the field stood on the brakes. Behind them, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen & Max Verstappen all entered the braking zone three abreast, with Bottas on the inside and Verstappen right on the outside. Bottas made slight contact with Raikkonen alongside, pitching Raikkonen across the bows of the Red Bull driver. The Ferrari and RBR both immediately suffered critical damage, and fell to the back. Raikkonen pulled over and stopped, while Verstappen was able to trundle back to the pits to retire.
Vettel capitalised on the confusion to build a 2.5 second lead within two laps, and this gap between Vettel and Hamilton stayed consistent for the opening ten laps. Hamilton then started to ease back the gap to around two seconds by the end of Lap 13, pushing hard to close in on his championship rival. Behind the top two, Valtteri Bottas wasn’t able to maintain the pace up ahead and was falling behind but still comfortably ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Force India’s Sergio Perez. On Lap 15, Sebastian Vettel was the first of the leaders to pit and came back out in traffic. Lewis Hamilton, now leading, put in the fastest lap before Vettel responded as he cleared some of the traffic.
The Ferrari then quickly started reeling in the Mercedes and, with Mercedes not bringing in Hamilton immediately, it appeared the team were trying a different strategy to Vettel. Hamilton was brought in at the end of Lap 21, taking on a set of Medium tyres. This meant Bottas went into the lead, with Vettel back up to P2 and closing rapidly on Hamilton’s teammate, with Lewis eight seconds behind Vettel. The Ferrari caught up on Bottas very quickly, and then spent three laps staring at the back of the Mercedes as Bottas played rear runner for Hamilton. With Bottas hampering Vettel’s pace, Hamilton quickly caught up on the leading duo before Vettel sprung a late dive on the Finn into Turn 1 and snatched back the lead.
On Lap 28, and with Hamilton easing past Bottas before Valtteri pitted for a fresh set of Medium tyres, it was now Vettel leading on the Soft tyres, around 4.5 seconds clear of Hamilton on the Mediums. Bottas was around twenty seconds further back in P3, with Daniel Ricciardo a very lonely P4. The Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were P5 & P6 respectively and had also both pitted. Pascal Wehrlein was P7 and was yet to stop in the Sauber, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. Fighting hard since the start of the race, the final points positions were held by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen & Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
On Lap 35, Lance Stroll & Stoffel Vandoorne collided into Turn 1. Stroll was overtaking up the inside of the McLaren, with Vandoorne moving across to the apex and colliding with the Williams. This broke his suspension and Vandoorne stopped in the gravel. With the car in a relatively dangerous position, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, slowing the pace of the field. This set off a chain reaction of pit-stops, including the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. He took on a fresh set of Soft tyres on Lap 37, while Vettel stayed out on track. Vettel pitted a lap later, forced to take on the Medium tyre. With Ferrari not pitting under the VSC, Vettel came back out on track directly alongside Hamilton with both being as brazen as possible into Turn 1. Vettel had the inside line, and forced the Mercedes wide across the escape area. This allowed Vettel to retain the lead, but under serious pressure from Hamilton. Also feeling the pressure was Valtteri Bottas’ engine, which failed at the start of Lap 41, forcing the Finn to pull over and out of the race from P3. This moved the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo up to the podium place.
On Lap 43, the pair entered the main straight separated by half a second, with Vettel looking nervously in the rear view mirror as the Mercedes closed. Vettel covered the inside into Turn 1, but Hamilton swooped to the outside and took the lead away from the Ferrari. With 22 laps remaining, this meant that the race would come down to tyre life, with Hamilton having to do a long stint on the Soft tyre while Vettel would comfortably make it to the end on the Mediums. Just two laps after the pass, Hamilton radioed in to say his rear tyres were starting to overheat, with Vettel pegging the gap ahead to just over a second.
The gap eased up to just over 2 seconds over the next five laps, with the challenge from Ferrari seemingly fading. Such was the pace of the frontrunners, Hamilton & Vettel had lapped everyone up to Sergio Perez in P4, and only twenty seconds off lapping absolutely everybody. Behind Ricciardo’s P3, the Force Indias of Sergio Perez & Esteban Ocon circulated in P4 & P5, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in P6. Pascal Wehrlein, running P7 on track having made it the whole way to the VSC period without a pitstop, had a five second penalty hanging over him due to a pitlane entry indiscretion, meaning he was really running P9 and on for Sauber’s first points in 2017.
Vettel started closing on Hamilton with five laps to go, but got baulked by Felipe Massa at the end of the back straight and lost 1.5 seconds, halting Vettel’s last challenge. Hamilton put in the fastest lap on the penultimate circuit, proving that he still had tyre life at the end. He crossed the line to take the win over Vettel, with Ricciardo finishing P3 almost a lap down. Perez & Ocon finished P4 & P5 to take a great points haul for Force India, while Nico Hulkenberg finished P6 for Renault. Carlos Sainz took P7 for Toro Rosso, Pascal Wehrlein a stellar P8 for Sauber, Daniil Kvyat took P9 in the other Toro Rosso due to a late puncture for Haas’ Kevin Magnussen when the pair made contact at Turn 4. Romain Grosjean completed the top ten.
Marcus Ericsson finished P11 for Sauber, Fernando Alonso a disappointed P12 for McLaren, Felipe Massa P13 for Williams, Magnussen finished P14, Palmer P15 in the second Renault and Lance Stroll the last of the finishers in P16.