Mercedes Lewis Hamilton took his second career Spanish Grand Prix victory after winning a thrilling, tight strategic battle with Sebastian Vettel after the Ferrari driver led for the first half of the race. Third place went to Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian inheriting the podium spot after an engine failure ruled Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas out midway through the grand prix.
When the lights went out, it was Vettel who made the best start. The German powered away from P2 on the grid and grabbed the lead as he and Hamilton went through Turn One.
Behind, Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari was making a move around the outside of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes. With Red Bull’s Max Verstappen further outside it was a tight squeeze into the first corner and Raikkonen’s rear right got inside of his countryman’s front left. There was contact and the impact bounced Raikkonen into Verstappen. The result was suspension damage and early retirement for both.
There was contact, too, between seventh-placed starter Fernando Alonso and ninth on the grid Felipe Massa. Local Hero Alonso had worked miracles to haul his underperforming McLaren to P7 on the grid on Saturday but it was undone when he was hit in Turn 2 by the Williams man. Alonso dropped to P11 and eventually drifted out to P13 by the end of the race.
By lap 14 Vettel had pulled out an almost three-second gap to Hamilton. The German then pitted for soft tyres, leaving Hamilton in clean air. His engineer was quickly on the radio telling the Briton it was “his opportunity, give it everything you’ve got”. Hamilton responded with a race fastest lap, but Vettel was alive to the threat and fought back with a purple time of his own.
Hamilton made his first stop on lap 22, taking on the medium tyres. He rejoined in third, 7.3s behind Vettel, who was right on the tail of leader Bottas who needed to pit.
Vettel’s frustrations grew as the Finn thwarted his efforts to pass. Vettel eventually got past but Bottas’ baulking lost him more than three seconds to Hamilton. When Bottas, who needed to pit, allowed Hamilton past, Vettel found himself with just three seconds in hand over the Briton, relatively matched on lap time but on different strategies.
Bottas then made his first stop and resumed in third place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian was a lonely fourth for Red Bull Racing, almost nine second behind the Mercedes and almost 14 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez. The Mexican’s team-mate Esteban Ocon was sixth ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrelin, who had yet to pit, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.
At the halfway point there was a collision between Massa and Vandoorne as the Brazlian was hit when he tried to pass into Turn One.
The VSC was deployed as Vandoorne ended up beached in the gavel with broken front suspension and while there was a flurry of pit stops in the midfield, Hamilton waited until the VSC was ending to make his stop for soft tyres on lap 36. Vettel immediately responded and took on mediums at the end of the following lap.
He emerged almost alongside the Mercedes man and the pair banged wheels in Turn One. Vettel emerged in the lead but Hamilton had the quicker tyres and pressed for a way past. Vettel made his car as wide as possible and a tit-for-tat battle ensued.
Behind them Bottas’ race came to an end on lap 39 when his power unit failed on the run through Turn 3. The Finn had been forced to revert to an older engine on Friday night after a water leak was detected on his new unit.
At the front Hamilton was still putting pressure on Vettel and eventually, on lap 44, it told. The Briton got a good run out of the final corner and passed the German under DRS into Turn One.
Within a few laps though Hamilton was on the radio complaining that the rear of his set of soft tyres were already overheating. With Vettel on the more durable mediums, the race was not yet over as a contest.
As the laps wound down, it became clear it was a case of whether either of the top two would blink. With lap times similar, would Vettel, who had almost a minute in hand over Ricciardo, attempt a three-stop and take on soft tyres for a late attack on Hamilton as his soft tyres faded? If he pitted would Mercedes respond?
The answer came on lap 58 when Hamilton was told the gap was sufficient to prevent Vettel from trying a strategic gamble and that he should nurse his Mercedes to the flag.
And that was how it remained until the flag. As the front pair threaded their way through traffic the gap widened to over four seconds and after 66 laps Hamilton crossed the line to take a narrow 55th career win. Vettel was forced to settle for second ahead of Ricciardo who had a lonely run to his first podium finish since the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix.
Force India enjoyed an excellent race, with Perez fourth ahead of team-mate Ocon. Nico Hulkenberg gave Renault something to celebrate by rising from 13th on the grid to sixth. Carlos Sainz was seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein with Daniil Kvyat ninth in the second Toro. The final points position went to Haas’ Romain Grosjean.