A Dominant Hamilton Reigns In Spain
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Following the somewhat chaotic race in Baku, Azerbaijan a fortnight ago the Formula 1 circus headed to Barcelona this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, the first European race of the season. Since 1991 it has been held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya north of the city centre in Montmeló and apart from a dramatic opening lap a relatively quiet race was won comfortably by Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes.
In Friday’s opening Free Practice session Mercedes had dominated, with Valtteri Bottas fastest ahead of his team-mate Hamilton. Next best was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the other Ferrari pedalled by Kimi Räikkönen.
Fernando Alonso, competing in his home Grand Prix, was an impressive sixth fastest for McLaren, whilst Williams’ poor form continued with reserve driver Robert Kubica and race driver Lance Stroll the two slowest cars on track.
Come Free Practice Two Hamilton led the way, followed by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen, with Vettel, Bottas and Räikkönen snapping at their heels. This was only Friday, but there were promising signs for a close race come Sunday. How wrong that was to be.
All was looking good for Mercedes in Saturday’s final Free Practice session as Hamilton headed Bottas by a mere 0.013s, followed by the Ferraris of Vettel and Räikkönen. The session had to be redflagged near its conclusion after a hefty shunt for the under pressure Toro Tosso driver Brendon Hartley, but fortunately the New Zealander emerged unscathed even if the same couldn’t be said for his car which was too badly damaged to take part in the subsequent qualifying session.
The Mercedes joy continued in qualifying though as Hamilton just edged pole position from Bottas, the first front row lock-out for the Brackley based team this year. It was then a case of two by two for the following day’s Grand Prix as Vettel and Räikkönen made the second row on the grid Ferrari’s just ahead of the pair of Red Bulls.
Hamilton’s main championship rival Vettel wasn’t unduly concerned straight after qualifying, commenting “I was happy with the lap. We expected Mercedes to be strong, so tomorrow should be an interesting race”.
Race day proved to be significantly cooler, just 15C and with the odd drop of rain in the air, but the action was certainly hot on the opening lap. Hamilton led into Turn 1, but Vettel pulled off a brilliant manoeuvre to pass Bottas on the long sprint to the corner.
Just seconds later Haas’ Romain Grosjean, distracted by his team-mate Kevin Magnussen just ahead of him, spun his car across the track at Turn 3 and with his foot firmly planted on the accelerator created a large cloud of tyre smoke.
This left the following drivers unable to see what was happening and Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault and Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso were significantly damaged after contact with the out of control Haas and instantly put out of the race.
The Safety Car was immediately summonsed whilst the damaged cars and debris were cleared from the circuit and when racing resumed at the end of the sixth lap Hamilton led from Vettel, Bottas and Räikkönen as the British multiple champion started to build a significant lead.
Vettel was the first of the front runners to pit, switching from Soft to Medium tyres on the eighteenth tour and Mercedes covered this by doing likewise with Bottas two laps later. The Finn rejoined the track still just behind the German.
Räikkönen’s Ferrari then slowed and limped back to the pits and retirement before the leading Hamilton made his only stop of the Grand Prix to change to Medium rubber too. This left the Red Bull of Verstappen out front until he made his own similar stop.
With 30 laps to go Hamilton was comfortably clear of Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen, but a subsequent Virtual Safety Car to allow the removal of Esteban Ocon’s stationary Force India prompted Ferrari to pit Vettel for a second time and a further set of Medium tyres.
Unfortunately for the Italian team and Vettel the stop took a mighty 5.6s as they had to delay their car’s departure until Force India’s Perez had arrived, fearing a penalty for an unsafe release if they had risked letting their driver rejoin the race as soon as the car was ready. This dropped Vettel to fourth place behind Verstappen.
The latter enjoyed better luck as he hit the rear of Lance Stroll’s Williams during the VSC period, damaging the left end of his front wing, but the pace of the young Dutch racer didn’t seem to be hindered.
With only 14 cars still on track and dark clouds looming near Turn 3 a dominant Hamilton cruised to the chequered flag, with Bottas completing a one-two for the silver cars and Verstappen claiming the final podium position ahead of Vettel, Ricciardo and Magnussen.
The pair of Spanish drivers, Carlos Sainz and Alonso, finished seventh and eighth respectively ahead of Perez, leaving the impressive Ferrari junior driver Charles Leclerc to bring his Sauber home in tenth place, the final points paying position.
Hamilton’s clearcut victory extended his Drivers’ Championship lead over Vettel to 17 points and Mercedes leapfrogged Ferrari to the top of the Constructors’ table.
Next on this year’s calendar is the iconic Monaco Grand Prix, the jewel in Formula 1’s crown and a race I never tire of returning to as the atmosphere is so unique. Watching 1000 horsepower state of the art F1 cars blast around the Monegasque streets is truly mesmerising even if overtaking is probably more difficult than at any other circuit and qualifying and race strategy are more important than ever. Bring it on.
2018 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr35m29.972s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +20.593s
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +26.873s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +27.584s
5 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +50.058s
6 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
7 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
8 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Lapped
9 Sergio Perez (Force India) Lapped
10 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Lapped
11 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
12 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
13 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
14 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Retired
16 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
17 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) Retired
18 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Retired
19 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Retired
20 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 5 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton 95
2 Sebastian Vettel 78
3 Valtteri Bottas 58
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 5 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 153
2 Ferrari 126
3 Red Bull 80
A Dominant Hamilton Reigns In Spain, 13th May 2018, 23:47 PM