Hamilton wins Spanish GP with surprise strategy
By Mat Coch
Monday 10th May, 2021 - 1:01am
Lewis Hamilton has charged his way to victory in the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, overcoming a more than 20 second deficit to Max Verstappen.
Mercedes pulled a surprise strategy on Red Bull mid-race, stopping Hamilton for a second time before the Englishman hunted down the race leader at a rate of nearly two seconds per lap.
Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, while Charles Leclerc in fourth put in a quiet but starring performance for Ferrari.
At the race start, Verstappen tucked into the slipstream of Hamilton before elbowing his way through at Turn 1.
Behind them, Leclerc went around the outside of Bottas at Turn 3 to climb to third while a good start saw Daniel Ricciardo climb to fifth.
At the end of the opening lap, Verstappen had extended a 1.5s advantage over Hamilton, who was in turn 1.7s clear of Leclerc.
Officials were busy early, investigating Pierre Gasly for being out of position at the start of the race.
The Frenchman ran 13th in the opening laps, one place down from where he’d qualified the AlphaTauri.
But he’d line up outside of his grid box, which resulted in a five-second penalty, to be served at his first stop.
On Lap 8, the Safety Car was deployed when Yuki Tsunoda rolled to a halt at Turn 10, the Japanese driver reporting the engine had stopped.
The race resumed on Lap 10, Verstappen accelerating early to get a jump over Hamilton who was left to defend the advances of Leclerc into Turn 1.
As they’d done in the opening laps, the front two quickly stretched clear of Leclerc in third, with Bottas unable to get close enough to make a move on the Ferrari.
It was a similar case for Perez, who remained tucked up behind Ricciardo as they battled over fifth, the pair dropping away from Bottas ahead.
Verstappen maintained just over a one second advantage over Hamilton for much of the opening stint, ensuring the Mercedes driver remained outside of DRS reach.
Bottas was the first of the leaders to stop after 24 laps, swapping the soft compound tyres on which he’d started for a new set of mediums and saw him rejoin sixth.
Verstappen pitted at the end of the next lap, his lead having reduced from 1.5s to less than 0.5s in the laps preceding the stop.
It released Hamilton out front, the pole-sitter recording a 1:23.284s as he carried on.
Verstappen was allowed through by Perez, his cause helped by McLaren pitting Ricciardo to further clear his path.
Hamilton lost time putting a lap on Nikita Mazepin, Mercedes keeping him on track.
On his first complete lap following his stop, Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race, 1:21.411s as he sat just over 18s away from the race lead.
After 28 laps, Hamilton pitted.
It was a slick stop, 2.7s stationary time, though he still remained a net second to Verstappen by six seconds.
The difference was tyre life; Verstappen having pushed his soft compound rubber hard initially and taking his stop five laps earlier.
In the pit sequence, Bottas had jumped Leclerc to move up to third, while Ricciardo maintained fifth place ahead of Perez.
Hamilton lifted his pace, setting a new fastest lap on Lap 30 at 1:21.276s. On the same lap, Verstappen had circulated in 1:22.714s.
That pace differential continued next time around as the gap between the two leaders shrunk to 1.6s as they began Lap 34.
That saw Hamilton move within DRS range a lap later, though stagnated at that point.
Down the road, Ricciardo and Perez were locked in battle for fifth place.
The Red Bull driver had closed in on the back of the Australian, and sat within DRS range from Lap 33.
On Lap 41, that saw Ricciardo have to defend into the opening corner.
Shortly thereafter he was told by race control to stop weaving down the front straight, Ricciardo having used the tactic in an attempt to break the tow to his rival.
As Verstappen started Lap 43, Hamilton took to the pits for a scrubbed set of medium compound tyres.
It was a move that caught Red Bull by surprise, and left Verstappen with a 23s advantage with 22 laps remaining.
In just a single lap, that had reduced by a second, Hamilton then setting the fastest lap (1:20.775s) to take 1.1s out of the leader next time by.
On Lap 46, Perez made the move stick on Ricciardo.
Aided by DRS, the Mexican reeled in the McLaren down the front straight, the Ricciardo driver moving to the inside to defend the corner.
Perez stuck to the racing line, driving around the outside at Turn 1 to claim fifth place.
At the end of the lap, McLaren called Ricciardo into the pits for a set of soft compound tyres.
Ferrari made the same call with Sainz, the pair emerging eighth and ninth respectively.
As Verstappen began Lap 50 of 66, his lead to Hamilton in third had been reduced to 13.5s – the Mercedes driver enjoying a 1.8s/lap advantage at points.
Ricciardo had quickly despatched of Lando Norris, the two McLaren’s running different strategies.
Not long later, Norris was shown the black and white flag by officials for a late move when defending against Sainz after the Ferrari had rapidly caught the McLaren.
Tensions rose within the Mercedes garage when Bottas did not move aside for Hamilton.
Asked to allow the Englishman through, Bottas was less than receptive to the idea and resulted in Hamilton having to put a racing pass on his team-mate into Turn 10, losing 0.4s to Verstappen in the process.
The Finn was soon hauled in by Mercedes, fitting a set of soft compound tyres to emerge fourth with 12 laps to run.
Ricciardo’s charge following his second stop continued, easing by Esteban Ocon’s Alpine to climb back to sixth.
With 10 laps remaining, the gap between first and second had reduced to a mere 6.6s, with Hamilton still enjoying a near 2s/lap pace advantage.
Bottas reclaimed third by passing Leclerc courtesy of DRS into the first corner as they started Lap 58.
Red Bull pitted Perez after 57 laps, a free stop for the squad as they looked to claim the point for fastest lap – which belonged to Bottas at the time with a 1:20.091s.
Leclerc did the same a lap later, Perez’s stop having opened the gap in which the Ferrari could be sent back out into.
At the start of Lap 60, Hamilton took the lead.
It was an easy move for the Englishman, using DRS before sweeping around the outside under brakes to take the apex at Turn 1.
With the race win no longer a possibility, Red Bull pitted Verstappen as he chased the point for fastest lap – Perez having lowered that to 1:19.483s.
That became a 1:18.149s on Lap 62 by Verstappen.
As Norris had received earlier, Lance Stroll was given a black and white flag after he moved late while defending against Gasly.
The AlphaTauri made the move up the inside at Turn 1, taking the last world championship point on Lap 64.
Hamilton duly collected the 98th win of his career, heading Verstappen by 15.8s at the chequered flag.
Bottas claimed third for Mercedes with Leclerc fourth, followed by Perez, Ricciardo, Sainz, Norris, Ocon, and Gasly to round out the top 10.
It sees Hamilton extend his world championship advantage to 14 points after a race that saw him claim his fifth consecutive victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Mercedes now sits 29 points clear of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, while just five points separates McLaren in third from Ferrari in fourth.
Results: Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||+15.841s|
|5||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||+63.671s|
|8||4||Lando Norris||McLaren||+1 lap|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+1 lap|
|10||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+1 lap|
|11||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+1 lap|
|12||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|13||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1 lap|
|14||63||George Russell||Williams||+1 lap|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|16||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||+1 lap|
|17||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+1 lap|
|18||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas||+2 laps|
|19||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas||+2 laps|
|20||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||DNF|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||80|
|6||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||32|
|10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||8|
|11||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||5|
|13||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||2|
|2||Red Bull Racing||112|