- Champion Hamilton claims 100th F1 pole and third win in four races
- British legend extends points lead over Max Verstappen to 14 points
- Mercedes play tactical game to defeat Red Bull in Spain
Lewis Hamilton claimed a tactical victory in the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday (9 May) to extend his title lead over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Hamilton had qualified on pole, a record breaking 100th in F1, but Verstappen blasted into the lead at the first corner. The Dutchman then threatened to walk away with it in the early stages, pulling out a lead of over 1.5 seconds after one lap. Hamilton kept him in check, and the top-two extended a margin on the rest of the field, only for that to be wiped out when the safety car was deployed to recover the broken down car of Yuki Tsunoda after just a few laps.
When the race resumed, Verstappen and Hamilton pulled away from the field again, and the Red Bull driver was the first of the pair to pit at the end of lap 24. A slower than usual stop seemed to hand the initiative to Mercedes and Hamilton, but the British driver didn’t pit immediately, and Verstappen was able to recover the time lost with his fresher tyres.
Hamilton did stop three laps later, but Verstappen now held a 5.5 second lead once the first stops were complete. Hamilton quickly brought that down to around a second, but wasn’t able to get close enough to make a move.
Mercedes then played a tactical gamble. They pitted Hamilton again for fresh tyres on lap 42 while Verstappen opted to stay out until the end. That left the seven time world champion 22 seconds behind the leader, and also behind his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
But the tyres, while not brand new, were still much fresher than his rival’s, and handed him a massive time advantage of around 1.5 seconds a lap. Bottas was soon dispatched after Mercedes ordered him not to hold up Hamilton, and Verstappen was back within sight with seven laps of the race to go.
On the next lap, Hamilton made use of his DRS (drag reduction system) overtaking device to sweep level with Verstappen on the start/finish straight and into the lead around the outside of the first turn.
A defeated Verstappen opted to pit again for fresh tyres in an effort to set fastest lap and achieve the extra bonus point. Bottas did the same, but it was the Dutchman who claimed the honour to minimise the damage done in the championship standings.
Hamilton eventually won by just under 16 seconds over Verstappen, who closed the gap after his pit stop thanks to his tyre advantage, with Bottas taking third. The Mercedes driver is now just two wins away from adding the 100 race wins accolade to his tally of 100 pole positions.
Hamilton’s championship lead over Verstappen stands at 14 points after four races, a seemingly unlikely margin after the pre-season tests, which suggested that Red Bull held a fairly decent advantage. Having won three of the first four races of the year, form suggests Hamilton and Mercedes have the upper-hand though both have suggested that Red Bull still probably hold a performance advantage, but have made more mistakes in races thus far.
It was really close off the start, there was a lot of rubber down on the right hand side of the grid and Max got a really good start.
I then went hunting and was so close to Max for so long during the opening stages of the race, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make the tyres last in the dirty air.
It looked like a long way back after the second stop – it was something like 20 seconds off Max – but it was a really bold call by the team. I was really conflicted, it felt like I might have the shot to make the move before Max stopped, but we just have that trust between us in the team and it was a great call.
The legendary streets of Monaco are up next in two weeks time, the first time the championship will have raced in the Principality since 2019, after last year’s running was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.