MEDIA RELEASE/Bart Horsten - Photos: supplied via Jakob Ebrey Photography Australian racer Bart Horsten scorched…
Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix from Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas. The end result saw the #44 Mercedes ease away to a comfortable 15.8 second victory over the Red Bull Honda driver for his 98th Grand Prix victory and 5th consecutive win in Spain. In a weekend where most of the paddock talk centred upon Red Bull’s future engine development program and the team’s procurement of a number of former Mercedes staff, Hamilton once again showed why he has been Formula One’s dominant driver over the past decade.
There were problems for Pierre Gasly as the cars approached the grid at the conclusion of the formation lap. The AlphaTauri came to a halt just outside the perimeter of the grid box and Gasly was duly given a 5 second penalty which was later served during his pit stop.
Max Verstappen looked to have had the better start from the front row of the grid and ran next to Lewis Hamilton on the run towards Turn 1. Hamilton just edged ahead under brakes for the corner and swept around the outside of Verstappen at the entry to the corner and into the race lead. Verstappen held the inside line at the corner and pushed towards the #44. Hamilton checked his run and Verstappen took the lead of the race. Bottas had also come under pressure from Charles Leclerc on the run towards the first turn, but he followed his teammate on the same line and retained his starting position.
Sky Sports commentator, Martin Brundle, called the move “Verstappen, with razor blades on his elbows, would not yield. All fair.”
Daniel Ricciardo made an excellent start and disposed of Esteban Ocon at Turn 1 and held the inside line as he ranged alongside Carlos Sainz for Turn 2. The Ferrari driver responded by squeezing the Australian over the kerbs only to out-brake himself at the following corner and dropped to 7th place. Leclerc demoted Bottas to 4th nearing the halfway point on the opening lap of the race.
Yuki Tsunoda’s race came to an early end on lap 8 when the engine of his AlphaTauri shut down and the car came to a stop in the run-off area at Turn 10. The race came under full course caution with the Safety Car deployed to recover the car.
Racing resumed on lap 10 of 66 with Verstappen quickly out ot a 0.7 second lead, while Hamilton’s attention was fully occupied by a charging Leclerc in his rear view mirrors. Bottas ran 3rd ahead of Ricciardo, Perez, Ocon, Sainz, Norris and Alonso.
Verstappen was the first of the lead group to take his first stop on lap 25. The left rear tyre was not ready as the #33 stopped in the pitlane and that delayed what should have been a routine stop for the team.
“Blue flags Michael, this guy makes us lose the position,” Mercedes Team Chief Toto Wolff told FIA Race Director Michael Masi over the team’s radio on lap 26 as Hamilton final push before his first stop was impeded as he approached one of the Team Haas cars ahead.
Hamilton pulled into the pitlane for his stop on lap 29, with the pit crew and tyres all ready to act. Despite the trouble free stop, Verstappen sailed down the pit straight back into the race lead as Hamilton emerged from the pit exit. As the race approached the half distance point all drivers, except Kimi Raikkonen had made at least one stop (the Williams drivers had already made 2 stops). Verstappen led from Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Perez, Raikkonen, Sainz, Ocon and Norris.
Mercedes committed to a two stop strategy and Lewis Hamilton pulled into the pits on lap 43, the team looking to take advantage of a possible undercut on the race leader.
Verstappen’s engineer immediately radioed to his driver “Could be Hungary all over again,” A reference to the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix where a similar pitstop strategy saw Red Bull lose the race to Mercedes.
Sergio Perez forced his way past Daniel Ricciardo for 5th place on lap 46 with a late pass o the entry to Turn 1 and then squeezed the Australian for room to ensure he move was done. By lap 51 Verstappen was still the race leader 9.7 seconds clear of Bottas in 2nd. Hamilton sat ominously in 3rd, 2.7 seconds behind his teammate. Leclerc ran in 4th from Perez and Ocon, with Ricciardo ahead of Sainz, who had just passed Norris for 8th place. Fernando Alonso sat 10th, the final point scoring position.
By lap 52 Hamilton sat under the rear wing of teammate Bottas as the instruction came over the team radio “Don’t hold Lewis up.” Hamilton last 4/10ths of second to Verstappen during the middle sector of the lap while Bottas remained ahead, seemingly oblivious to the request until Hamilton scythed past a little later in the lap. It appeared for a brief moment that Bottas might turn into his teammate, but not contact was made and Hamilton was clear to chase down Verstappen.
Lewis Hamilton sat 22 seconds in arrears of Max Verstappen after his second stop for tyres. By lap 59 of 66 that gap had shrunk to 0.565 seconds, with the Mercedes now well within striking distance of the race leader. Bottas, Leclerc and Perez ran lonely races equally spaced approximately 30 seconds apart, with Ricciardo and Sainz both within 3 seconds of the second Red Bull Honda, both having passes Ocon’s Alpine.
Hamilton used DRS to make his move into Turn 1 on lap 60 and breezed past the Red Bull Honda for the race lead. By lap 62 the race was over, Hamilton had disappeared into the horizon with a 24 second lead over Verstappen. The main battle was for 10th place and the final point, with Alonso under immense pressure from Stroll, Gasly, Alonso, Vettel and Russell. Stroll and then Gasly moved past the Alpine of Alonso, who appeared to have already wrung the edge off his Michelin tyres and had little to offer in the way of defence.
Hamilton went on to win by 15.8 seconds from Verstappen and Bottas. Leclerc, Perez, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Ocon and Gasly completed the Top 10.
“I’m continuing to love this battle that we are having,” Lewis Hamilton said in the post-race press conference. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to follow them (Red Bull) as closely as I did in the end. Obviously Turn 1 at the start was not ideal. I’m going to have to review it and see how I can do better in the future. As soon as he (Max) got past into turn 1, I switched into a different mode. It was actually a really good day because I learnt a lot about Max today, perhaps more than all the other races put together. So, this has been a good one in that sense and great teamwork from all of us. We were here until late most evenings discussing strategy and we had all the bases covered in that respect.
Of course it meant that I had to get the job done on the track. To come back from 21 seconds on the track is note easy, but I think that it was the right one in the end. All weekend the one stop strategy was the quickest one to the end of the race. But this is one of the most abrasive circuits that we go to in terms of how aggressive it is with the tyres and it isn’t easy to make the tyres go the distance, even when the track was a lot cooler this weekend to how it was last year and even yesterday. All these little details have an effect on how these tyres last and it is a really challenging circuit to save them. It was quite clear to me early on, especially as I tried to remain a second behind Max, that I was going to do a two stop strategy. It was the perfect strategy.”
94 points from the first four races in the 2021 season equates to Lewis Hamilton’s best ever start to a Formula One season. Hamilton was asked if that surprised him.
“Every year I come back and am always trying to improve,” Hamilton said. “Most often it seems impossible but it is also a necessity. The Red Bulls have started off incredibly strong and have potentially a championship winning car, as do we. It’s going to take everything from us, both me and the team bringing our ‘A’ game weekend in and out, otherwise these guys (Red Bull) will be winning.”
“Too slow, That’s how you sum it up,” Max Verstappen told the press conference. “There’s not much else to discuss. I tried to do everything to manage it the best I could, looking after tyres and stuff. But it is not enough when they are pushing behind you and clearly they have a bit more pace. Of course you try to keep up with it and do the best possible, but even with a second stop I don’t think that I would have caught Lewis up, because I was a bit slower on the medium tyres.”
Daniel Ricciardo temporarily put to rest the critics after out-performing teammate Lando Norris in both qualifying and the race itself as the Australian continued to come to terms with the McLaren.
“It was a good weekend,” Riccardo said to McLaren media. “I would say the best weekend so far as a whole and I felt like I got the maximum out of the car today. I was defending the whole time! We jumped a few spots at the start and I think naturally those cars were a little quicker, which left me defending. It meant that the pace was high, and it forced me to push the whole way. I ended up learning even more about the car.”
C. Sainz Jr.
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