Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes took his 55th career victory today – his second at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and second of the 2017 season, beating Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel into second place with Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, third.
This race was one of the best of the year – an epic Grand Prix. Racing simply doesn’t go more wheel to wheel – and we were treated to some fantastic racing for the win.
A perfect getaway from second on the grid saw Vettel move ahead of Hamilton and into the lead. Things did not go so well for Kimi Raikkonen: at the first corner, he was tapped from behind by Valtteri Bottas and that pushed him into Max Verstappen which meant the ice man had to pull over to the side of the track with a broken front left suspension.
First one, then the other
Vettel pulled away in the early laps and behind him, Hamilton reacted. For the opening laps, the gap stayed around the two-second mark and then it looked as though the Mercedes man was trying to close with the intention of pulling off an undercut by pitting early to emerge in front. Ferrari reacted, bringing Vettel in on lap 14, fitting another set of Softs. Vettel rejoined behind Ricciardo. At the start of lap 16, he passed the Red Bull under braking and set a fastest lap of 1’24”901.
Hamilton pitted on lap 21 and went for the Medium tyres, while Vettel was attacking Bottas who was doing everything he could to keep ahead. Lap 35 and Vettel dived to the left, went on to the grass and got by at Turn 1, so the Vettel-Hamilton duel was back on. Lewis was 4 seconds down but on the harder rubber. On lap 33, Stoffel Vandoorne closed the door on Felipe Massa, went off the track and the race went into Virtual Safety Car mode. Hamilton came in on lap 37 and soon after the race was on again. Vettel went for the mandatory set of Medium tyres.
Hamilton was passed on the straight and yet again the duel resumed. Vettel pushed hard, really hard in the first two corners. The SF70H hung on to the lead, while Bottas retired. Vettel made the most of getting through the backmarkers to also be able to use the DRS down the main straight. But with a clear track, Hamilton made the most of his tyre advantage and the moveable wing to get ahead finally on lap 44.
But the fight wasn’t quite over, because Vettel’s rival had to look after his softer tyres. “Keep your head down,” Vettel’s engineer Ricky Adami advised his driver. But there were no more opportunities for attempting one final assault.
Lewis Hamilton: “It’s been a really good weekend and a great way to bounce back from Russia. It was the rawest fight that I can remember having in a long-time. I loved it, this is why I race. This is what made me get into racing in the first place. This is what the sport needs to be like every single weekend. To have a close battle like that with a four-time champion is awesome.
“I lost out on the start and had to watch Sebastian fly by. He was so fast out in front and it was such a push to keep in touch with him and not let him pull away. I was able to manage my tyres in the first stint and keep relatively close, then it was tricky to keep up on the Medium tyre and then after the second stop.
“We came out so close together which was super tight into Turn 1. He didn’t give me much space, it was close! I thought Seb would get me at the end of the final stint but I was able to do it. I have to congratulate my team today, with the strategy and the pit stops, as well as everyone back at the factory that has worked so hard to deliver these upgrades, enabling us to be so close in this fight with Ferrari.”
Sebastian Vettel: “My start was good, I saw Lewis struggle with wheelspin, and kept looking in the mirror to see if anybody else had a better start. The first stint went OK, then we had to pit, otherwise they might have got us with an undercut. My second stint was also pretty good: I managed to get close to Valtteri who was all over the place with his tyres. He blocked me. In the end I managed to get past, but by then I had lost an awful lot of time. Then in the last stint we did everything we could, the car was good.
“It was close with Lewis. I am happy when we have the chance to race the Mercedes cars, we can be very happy but not entirely happy today. The most important thing, though, is that we were in the fight. The team is in great form, we need to improve because we want to be ahead of them.”
Daniel Ricciardo: “I’m happy to be back on the podium today, it’s the first one of the season for me which is nice but actually the race was quite a lonely one. I didn’t have any real battles and my race was more about trying to keep a rhythm and maintain concentration.
“I got a bit fortunate with Valtteri’s problem towards the end of the race which bumped me up to third, but of course I’m still happy to be up there again and see all the smiles from the team. Today we will enjoy the podium but tomorrow we need to understand how to further close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes.
“I want to take the positives from this weekend, we will keep working hard and chipping away. I don’t think it’s impossible to catch the leaders at some point, maybe it will take a little longer than we had hoped but we will get there. I think I got the maximum out of the car today and moving on to Monaco we will have a few more updates, which will hopefully give us another step, and at that track it’s fair to say anything can happen.”
Perhaps the last word though should go to Mercedes’ Technical Director, James Allison: “Grands Prix like that are why we go motor racing. Winning is always lovely. But when you win a proper 12-round heavyweight fight in this kind of style, and along the way answer all sorts of questions about tyre degradation, following other teams and the car’s handling – and then see a driver at the peak of his craft like Lewis was today – there’s nothing better than that.”