FORMULA ONE: The Mercedeses in a class of their own lapping all but four cars
Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday to chalk up his fourth victory in a row and wrest the Formula One championship lead from German team-mate Nico Rosberg.
In what was also the fourth successive Mercedes one-two, and fifth win in five races for the dominant constructor, Hamilton took the chequered flag a mere 0.6 of a second ahead of his rival.
In a nail-biting finish to what had been a largely uneventful race, Rosberg piled pressure on Hamilton by slashing the Briton's lead over the last six laps and looming ominously in his mirrors.
Hamilton, who now has 100 points to Rosberg’s 97 after his 26th career victory, leads the standings for the first time since 2012 when he was at McLaren.
Hamilton sounded increasingly anxious on the radio, but held on for his first win in Spain. “I wasn’t fast enough, really, today; Nico was quicker,” the 2008 champion said during the podium interview. “Fortunately, I was able to keep him behind.”
Rosberg, who declared himself “a bit gutted” to finish second again — and his subdued body language alongside Hamilton on the podium more than backed that up — felt he would have got past with one more lap.
Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull.
“We did not have the pace on Mercedes...it is really nice to be on the podium,” said the smiling Australian. “A lonely third was not a bad result in the end.”
Sebastian Vettel, who started 15th after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, ended with a strong fourth place.
At the start, the two Mercedes made a clean joint departure while behind them Bottas moved forward to claim third ahead of Ricciardo on the run to the first corner, the longest start straight of the season.
Hamilton opened up a 1.1sec lead on the first lap as the two Mercedes pulled clear.
Rosberg remained determinedly on Hamilton’s tail through the early laps as Vettel worked his way to 13th before making an early pit-stop on lap 13, emerging at the back of the field to start a renewed charge.
As this unfolded, Pastor Maldonado added to the Lotus team’s repair bill and frustrations by colliding with Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham. He damaged the car and collected a five-second penalty.
Ricciardo pitted after 15 laps and had to wait until Bottas came in six laps later to take third place.
Rosberg’s first pit stop, in 2.9sec, was a full second faster than Hamilton’s, but once the chase resumed, he found it difficult to prevent the Englishman from opening up a lead that reached 4.5sec by lap 30.
Hamilton had complained of over-steer. “My rear end is everywhere,” he radioed to the team on lap 29.
By lap 32, when Rosberg produced a fastest lap to cut the gap to 4.1sec, the front pair were nearly 25 seconds clear of third-placed Ricciardo.
In the ‘other race’ for third place and beyond, Vettel reached the top-ten by half-distance and maintained a consistent and aggressive pace as he worked his way into the top six.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:41:05.155 seconds, 2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) +00:00.636 secs, 3. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +00:49.014, 4. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) +01:16.702, 5. Valtteri Bottas (Williams) +01:19.293, 6. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) +01:27.743, 7. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +1 lap, 8. Romain Grosjean (Lotus) +1 lap, 9. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 lap, 10. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) +1 lap, 11. Jenson Button (McLaren) +1 lap, 12. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) +1 lap, 13. Felipe Massa (Williams) +1 lap, 14. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +1 lap, 15. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) +1 lap, 16. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) +1 lap, 17. Adrian Sutil (Sauber) +1 lap, 18. Jules Bianchi (Marussia) +2 laps, 19. Max Chilton (Marussia) +2 laps, 20. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham) +2 laps. Retired: Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham) 32 laps, Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) 42 laps.
Fastest Lap: Vettel,1:28.918 seconds, lap 55.
Drivers standings: 1. Hamilton 100, 2. Rosberg 97, 3. Alonso 49, 4. Vettel 45, 5. Ricciardo 39, 6. Hulkenberg 37, 7. Bottas 34, 8. Button 23, 9. Magnussen 20, 10. Perez 20, 11. Raikkonen 17, 12. Massa 12, 13. Grosjean 4, Vergne 4, Kvyat 4, 16. Sutil 0, Gutierrez 0, Chilton 0, Kobayashi 0, Maldonado 0, Ericsson 0, Bianchi 0.
Constructors standings: 1. Mercedes 197, 2. Red Bull 84, 3. Ferrari 66, 4. Force India 57, 5. Williams 46, 6. McLaren 43, 7. Toro Rosso 8, 8. Lotus 4, 9. Sauber 0, Marussia 0, Caterham 0.