One wanted the official start to the 2018 European season beginning from the Spanish Grand Prix to be an exciting one. And in the end, one couldn’t have asked for a better result, unless you were a Ferrari fan.
Hamilton thumps his competitors to emerge as the champion of Barcelona.
In a golden drive for the Silver Arrows here at Barcelona, Catalunya unfurled a spectacular Mercedes 1-2 as Lewis Hamilton clinched what became his 64th career win.
Having looked solid and spectacular all weekend, Hamilton put Mercedes right on top of the 66-lap challenge, enjoying an emphatic 20-second gap over second-placed Valtteri Bottas. If this wasn’t a comprehensive win for Lewis then what might ever suffice?
Thankfully, evading the heartbreaking tire-wear that hurt his chances at Baku, the Finnish driver collected a strong P2 just ahead of a fighting Max Verstappen, who clinched his first podium of 2018.
But while there were massive gains for the Mercedes, who now lead the constructor’s standings by 27 points over Ferrari, the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix produced nothing spectacular for the Maranello-based outfit. The only points that Ferrari managed, following Raikkonen’s engine failure and subsequent DNF in the middle-stages were the 12 points that Sebastian Vettel fetched lacklustertre P4.
Here’s how the action unfolded as the five red lights went green
Ever since the five red lights went off amid overcast conditions here at Spain’s thriving cosmopolis, Lewis Hamilton disappeared at the front, beginning to open the gap to Bottas and Vettel in pursuit of car no.44.
With 16 corners decorating the 66-lap competition, there was a possibility that the high-speed Turns Three and Nine might have administered some skirmish but there was action in the opening lap itself.
Right after Ferrari’s Vettel dived into the inside of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas to clinch the second place with Hamilton tugging away, there was opening-lap carnage further back in the grid.
On Lap 1, around Turn Three, as Romain Grosjean was attempting to move ahead, he lost control of his Haas that slipped away from the asphalt, the skid causing a huge blow-up of smoke and dust. Cars pursuing Grosjean, the Renault of Hulkenberg and the Toro Rosso of Gasly ended up colliding with the Haas, owing to poor visibility.
While this prompted the deployment of the safety car, there were three race retirements in one instant
Hulkenberg, enduring a second DNF, following Baku’s incident, wasn’t the only despondent driver, Grosjean’s crash indicating that the Frenchman has failed to open his account despite 5 race entries thus far.
Meanwhile, the action at the front of the grid was in Hamilton’s favour as the British driver pulled some excellent laps, looking after his tyres as Kimi Raikkonen continued to fight off Verstappen who was breathing on the Ferrari’s tail, on P5, ahead of the other Red Bull.
Interesting battles ensued between the Force India’s and McLaren’s with Alonso showing his grit. Deployment of the safety car meant that there would be no overtaking for nearly 7 laps together as the cars at the front continued in a familiar arrangement.
Meanwhile, Alonso, master of early race gains, who had begun from eighth had slipped to eleventh and was attempting to pass Frenchman, Charles Leclerc, who’d moved up into the ninth place by then.
A race utterly dominated by a one-stop strategy saw Raikkonen and Hamilton continuing on longer stints as Vettel dived into the pits and had to contend with chasing Verstappen and Ricciardo for next few laps; Ferrari’s undercut, presumably failing.
Although Vettel passed both Bottas and Kevin Magnussen, brilliantly bisecting the duo on Lap 20, (as the Finn appeared from the pits) he would be the victim of a controversial Ferrari strategy that pitted the German under the safety car deployment.
Around lap 25, Raikkonen race-retired following a problem with the power unit in the engine, meaning this would be Raikkonen’s second mechanical DNF for 2018 and his second successive failure to collect points at Catalunya following 2017.
While the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix didn’t offer any tantalizing surprises as Baku, it unfurled some surprising reversal of fortunes
The order at the front of the grid from lap 36 onward changed in stark contrast to the initial laps.
Hamilton would continue his surge at the front as his pursuers- Bottas and Verstappen were embroiled in a battle for second, third place finish.
Daniel Ricciardo, who drove decently all weekend was looking set for a finish inside top five, as further back down Alonso made a blistering move over Charles Leclerc for eighth, racing blisteringly at around Turn Three as Force India’s Peres too managed to jump in, inside the points.
Bottas keeps his cool to keep Max at bay
At around Lap 46, Verstappen’s nose collided with the tail of William’s Lance Stroll. Despite losing a significant part of his Red Bull’s nose, the Dutchman would continue mounting a challenge to second-placed Valtteri Bottas and was in strong pursuit.
While Hamilton continued undeterred well into the checkered flag, Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen continued to fight thrillingly for 20 back-to-back laps.
At all this time, the Finn maintained firm control over ‘Mad Max’, keeping the Dutchman at bay and ensuring that tyre wear on his medium compounds would not hurt his chances for collecting a deserving second place.
Even as Verstappen’s would be the only Red Bull on the podium, he would feel his race was a world apart from the disastrous events at Baku a fortnight back that led to a double DNF for the Bulls.
Where does this leave the championship?
Even as Hamilton, who secured a comprehensive triumph may not have entered the Spanish Grand Prix in the best form possible, now dominates the driver’s title and has put the Mercedes 27 points ahead of Ferrari. This leaves us pondering whether the Arrivabene-led outfit sacrificed Vettel’s race, pitting him under safety lap deployment?
Imagine what might have happened had Sebastian Vettel, now having to pursue Hamilton ever so harder, had not pitted at all?