Lewis Hamilton beat championship leader Sebastian Vettel in a direct head-to-head duel as the Spanish Grand Prix delivered a pulsating fight for victory between F1 2017’s big two.
Despite losing the lead to his Ferrari rival at the start, Mercedes played Hamilton’s strategy cleverly to give the Englishman a chance and he then overtook Vettel on track after the final pit stops to claim the lead.
The pair had earlier come close to contact when Hamilton came out of the pits alongside the oncoming Ferrari, with the Mercedes taking to the run-off area and describing Vettel’s defence as “dangerous”.
The championship favourites totally dominated the race, finishing 75 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third, after Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen ran into Barcelona trouble within seconds of the lights going out.
The Finnish pair were involved in a three-way collision at the first corner, with the Ferrari and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, who was on the outside of them, making heavy contact and retiring as a result.
Bottas later dropped out when running a distant third with what appeared to be a Mercedes engine failure. The team had been forced to revert to an old unit on Saturday after a water leak.
With Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all losing one car apiece, Force India profited and finished fourth and fifth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon respectively. The team, the only outfit to finish with two cars in the points at every race so far, are now 34 points clear of their midfield rivals in fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.
Ten years into their respective F1 careers, Sunday’s race provided the most compelling evidence yet that Hamilton and Vettel, winners of seven of the last nine drivers’ titles, will go head-to-head for the crown for the first time this year.
“It was a hard race,” admitted Hamilton. “My neck is fine, but physically I lost nearly two kilos just in that race. It’s draining, fast cars, he (Vettel) drove fantastically well and it’s a real privilege to race against such an awesome driver.”