Spanish GP - Sunday - Race Report
Four for Four for Forty-Four
Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the world championship for the first time this season after he narrowly beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by just 0.636 of a second to take the victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. The Mercedes drivers, of course, utterly dominated the 66 lap race, leaving Daniel Ricciardo to trail home third and 50 seconds behind them in his Red Bull Renault.
Hamilton now has four wins out of the last four races in his car carrying the number 44.
“It’s very difficult to really put into words the feeling when you come to a race and have a result like this,” Hamilton said after his 26th career F1 win. “Never have I had a car like this and obviously we’ve never had a gap like this to anyone before. Nico did a fantastic job today; it was a struggle to keep him behind.
“I just feel that it is such a huge blessing, for not only me but for all the guys in the team, because of all the hard work they’ve done for many years now, but finally they are starting to see the fruits of their labor. I’m just enjoying every moment, every step of the way.”
Rosberg, who won the first race of the season and has since then finished second in the following events, lost his points lead to Hamilton in Spain.
Hamilton started from the pole and within a few laps had a lead of almost two seconds over Rosberg who had qualified second.
“The race was really lost in qualifying and at the start,” Rosberg said. “Those were the two opportunities I had. Qualifying was very, very close, I even had a bit of a problem which we found in hindsight, where I was a little bit down on power on the straight, but the difference was not enough to get pole, but still it was actually even closer than it looked. And then just had a poor start, so those were the two shots that I had at it and it didn’t work out.”
Both of the Merc boys started on Pirelli’s medium compound slicks. Both pitted twice for tires. But they had different strategies with Hamilton using mediums for the middle stint and then switching to the hard tires for the last stint while Rosberg went for the hards and then the mediums.
“There was a misunderstanding from my side,” Rosberg said, “because we were going to go prime (medium compound) second stint - there were two variables. There was one where we go prime second stint if we have graining in the first stint. Or I go prime second stint to try and beat Lewis if I feel that pace-wise I can be quicker and have a shot at it. I thought they were going prime because they thought I had graining but I didn’t have graining so that’s why I was confused but then I understood: it was to offset my strategy so that I would have a chance to fight Lewis at the end so it was fine - and just what I wanted.”
Hamilton led from lap 1 to lap 44 when he pitted. Rosberg then took over the top spot for four laps before making his stop. Hamilton was back out in front from laps 22 to 43 before making his final stop. After two laps in first, Rosberg handed the position back to Hamilton on lap 46. The gap between them was now around 3.6 seconds.
Rosberg saved his tires and then closed in. On lap 63 the gap was down to 0.9 of a second. Then it went down to 0.6 of a second. But he couldn’t quite get close enough to make a pass.
“This is a really, really difficult track to get close to the guy in front,” Rosberg said. “I still got close, y’know Turn 10, the last lap. Could have got gone for a kamikaze move but it wouldn’t have worked. Lewis did a great job the whole weekend and just that little bit ahead. But there are a lot of positives for me to take out of it. I’m fully motivated to just try to get that little bit extra and to edge him out next time - and it’s doable.”
Hamilton said: “I wasn’t fast enough really today; Nico was quicker. I struggled a lot with the balance and really had to rely on my engineers a lot more to give me the gaps and to try to find where I could find time. And also with all my settings, I was moving them up and down, up and down really trying to find extra time. But Nico was just generally quicker this weekend but fortunately I was able to keep him behind.”
And 50 seconds behind the top two came Ricciardo to get his first podium of his career. He finished third in Australia but was disqualified. In Spain, he gridded third but got passed by Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes) at the start. An early pitstop, however, got Ricciardo back into third place.
“Not exactly the start I wanted,” Ricciardo lamented. “I think initially the launch felt OK but we lost a bit of traction after that. Bottas got past me. The first stint I tried to hang in there, had, let’s say, a pseudo-attempt into Turn One. I got underneath him but it wasn’t deep enough to pull the move off and then, yeah, it was just about doing an undercut and just trying to still make a two-stop work. So from then on a pretty lonely race. Unfortunately we’re not going to catch Mercedes. At least this weekend we weren’t going to, so a lonely third was not a bad result in the end.”
Bottas ran in fourth, but Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) grabbed that from him with four laps to go.
“The strategy was correct and the team did really well in the pitstops,” Bottas said. “I made no mistake on the track so we made the maximum of what was on offer and got some good points from it. It's pleasing to be in the points and it equals my best ever result. It was a shame Vettel was so quick at the end, I tried to defend, but he had fresher tires. The atmosphere in the team is fantastic, we are all pushing forward and points feed that hunger."
Vettel had started in 15th place because of gearbox problems in qualifying. Showing his talent and speed he charged up to finish fourth.
“The start was not so great and I lost a place,” Vettel said, “but then I was able to get it back towards the end of the lap; it's always tricky when you are further back. It was a very busy first lap. I was then sort of stuck in the train, so I couldn't really feel how far we could go today and how quick we were, but once we came in I was on the harder tire and was able to stick with the people in front and even catch them a little bit. I think we realized that the pace was there and after that we had two fresh sets of tires from yesterday, so we could go even further up the road.”
Ferrari teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso had a fierce duel in the closing stages of the race. Alonso, on a different tire strategy, snatched sixth from Raikkonen with just four laps remaining.
“Our pace was too slow compared to the leaders,” Alonso said, “and on top of that, not making up any places at the start didn't help. The gap to the best is nothing new and today's result confirms the fact our rivals are strong on both the performance and the reliability fronts, but until it is mathematically impossible to catch them we will continue to believe and do all we can to catch up.
“The decision to go for a three stop strategy was taken in an attempt to cover Vettel, but unfortunately I lost the place at the pit stop and I only managed to make up one on Kimi, who was impossible to pass when we were on the same tires.”
Such was the speed of the Mercedes and the lack of speed of the Ferraris that Raikkonen finished seventh and a lap down.
"That was a complicated race for me,” he said, “with the main problem being a lack of grip and in general, it was very difficult to find the right balance on the car. Going for a two stop strategy proved to be the wrong choice because tire degradation meant I couldn't push all the way to the end.
“Overall here, we went better than in the last race, maybe because the characteristics of this track are very different to those we have raced on so far, but we cannot be happy with sixth and seventh places, because we are a long way off where we want to be.”
Romain Grosjean’s eighth place gave the troubled Lotus team its first points of the season.
"It's been a tough battle for us to get points this season,” he said, “and that was certainly one of the hardest races I've contested in a long time. I did everything I could to drive around the power unit issues, which really made things difficult when battling the other cars. It's good for all the crew at the track and at Enstone to finally get a reward for all their hard work. There are still a lot of areas where we can improve and certainly the car wasn't as quick today as it was yesterday, with the different track conditions as well as the other issue.”
For the fourth time in five races, Force India had both drivers in the points. Sergio Perez was ninth and Nico Hulkenberg 10th.
“It was quite a hard afternoon, so to come away with two points is not too bad,” Perez said. “I had pretty strong pace in the race and my tire degradation was okay so I think we probably could have been a bit more aggressive with the strategy. Maybe if we had stopped earlier I could have jumped ahead of some more cars because my pace was good, but it was just so difficult to overtake. We knew this track would be a tough test for us, so this result is more or less what we expected here. Maybe P7 or P8 was achievable today, but we should feel quite happy to keep up our run of points."
Hulkenberg added: "It was a case of damage limitation today. We knew from the early practice sessions that this wasn't going to be our strongest track so to get two cars in the points is a positive result. The tire degradation was high and the car was not so easy to drive, but I think everybody was struggling in the final part of the race.”
Everybody certainly is struggling to get anywhere near the Mercedes cars. Next on the schedule is the Monaco Grand Prix.
“Monaco: fantastic!” said Rosberg who won there in 2013. “It’s my favorite race of the year. Great memories there from last year. Looking forward to it, with the car that we have also this year, it’s going to be great.
“For sure the opposition is going to be closer. Especially I expect Red Bull to be a lot closer, so it’s going to be tougher for us but still, we have a strong package, engine and car. So, should go fine around Monaco and going to try and make the most of it, repeat the win from last year.”