Lewis Hamilton won his fifth consecutive Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a master stroke at the Mercedes pits.
Hamilton rose to 98 career wins after a surprise second tire change cheated Red Bull to give him 14 points ahead of Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.
Valtteri Bottas took third place with Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari fourth.
Hamilton had started from pole for the 100th time, but was beaten at the first turn by Verstappen, Leclerc giving Bottas the same treatment at turn two.
On lap eight, Yuki Tsunoda’s Sunday drive in Catalonia came to an untimely end when his Alpha Tauri came to a halt.
“Engine shutdown,” lamented the Japanese rookie as the safety car emerged briefly to clear the stationary obstacle.
Verstappen held up comfortably against Hamilton on the restart on lap 11, with Leclerc continuing to separate the two Mercedes.
With a third of the race over, the first lap of the pit stops began, with all eyes on which of the first two with less than a second between them would blink first.
It was Verstappen who arrived on lap 25, but the pitstop was a few seconds slow in another minor but potentially critical error from Red Bull title contenders.
Mercedes’ pit wall drew Hamilton to a flash stop a few laps later as they placed their hopes on cooler medium tires that would make the difference towards the finish.
Halfway through, Hamilton set the fastest lap with less than two and a half seconds behind his Dutch rival. The gap was less than a second shortly after.
On turn 43, Mercedes played their ace card.
Hamilton, half a second off the lead, entered the pits for a second new round of midrange.
He reappeared with less than 23 seconds to catch up with Verstappen, who with tire wear risked becoming a sitting duck for the man chasing a record-breaking eighth driver’s title.
Hamilton asked his pit wall, “How far should I catch up? “
“Currently 22 seconds… we did it before…” the answer came back.
There was a note of desperation on Red Bull radio with Verstappen suggesting “I don’t know how we’re going to get there”.
Hamilton moved up to second but there was no hint of the team’s orders, with Bottas forcing his teammate into full pass mode.
Ten laps to go and Hamilton had just three seconds to catch up on Verstappen and on lap 60 he did, passing the Dutchman at the first corner – Toto Wolff, his team manager, kicking in the air with pleasure as their masterstroke paid off.
© 2021 AFP