Dominant Hamilton gains revenge over Verstappen to win fifth Spanish Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton gained revenge over Max Verstappen to come out on top of another close battle between arguably the two best drivers in the sport to win the Spanish Grand Prix from the Dutchman and his teammate, Valtteri Bottas.

After an intriguing race of two-stop strategies, it was the Racing Point duo of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez who were fourth and fifth, ahead of Carlos Sainz, Sebastian Vettel (who started 11th on the hards) and Alexander Albon. Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris rounded out the points-scoring finishers after Charles Leclerc retired with an engine issue mid-way through the race.

“I was just in a daze out there. Tyre management was very, very good out there and after what happened last week it enabled us to evaluate what we needed to do today,” said Hamilton after his fifth Spanish GP victory and fourth in a row. “I didn’t even know it was the last lap at the end so that’s how zoned in I was ready to keep going. It’s something I study before the race, what tyres we’re going to be using and what strategy I’m going to use and when I came to understand I could make the tyres go longer than we planned.

“I was even looking to potentially go for a one stop but I think the strategy we had was just right and at the end there was no need to take the risk of going on the soft tyre so I had a fresh brand new intermediate, which was best.”

The race had started with a Mercedes front row, but Bottas suffered a slow getaway as a flying Stroll rocketed past with the second Racing Point of Perez also challenging. It would be a frustrating opening few laps for the Finn until he out-dragged the Canadian on the straight on lap 5 before setting about the Red Bull.

With a scorching track temperature of 49.2 degrees Celsius, enough to fry an egg on the tarmac, the race was always going to come down to the strategy of pit stops and whether teams would opt for a two or three stop strategy, and which compounds would follow.

And with Verstappen closing on Hamilton, it appeared to the Dutchman that the Mercedes was deliberately driving slower to conserve the tyres that started to grain alarmingly early at Silverstone, the Red Bull aero package renowned for better tyre management.

It also seemed to be a cunning ploy from Hamilton to back Verstappen into the closing Bottas, Mercedes hedging their bets on a split strategy to catch Red Bull in a clever pincer movement. Behind the leading protagonists, the ‘Pink Panthers’ of Stroll and Perez were maintaining position as ‘best of the rest’.

With all of the top ten having to start on the softest compound red-banded Pirelli tyre, it would become an intriguing game of cat and mouse as to who would pit first, and what tyres would follow. Verstappen was the first of the big hitters to show his hand, pitting for the medium compound on lap 22, putting him out just in front of the Racing Point of Stroll.

It still meant that Hamilton had a 30 second advantage over his Red Bull rival, seeming to manage the tyres much better than at Silverstone with lessons learned from the valuable data and all the miles of running at F1’s pre-season testing venue.

With that gap in hand, Hamilton and Bottas responded two laps later with the net result of as they were – Mercedes, Red Bull, Mercedes – despite a slow left rear attachment for the Englishman. Behind them, the pace of the Racing Points was still strong, Stroll pitting on lap 28 and regaining track position ahead of his teammate after re-joining on the mediums. But the Mexican quickly gained on the sister Racing Point and a battle royale ensued, Stroll eventually enjoying bragging rights by the chequered flag after a five-second penalty handed to Perez for ignoring a blue flag to let Hamilton past.

Before then, the first drama of the day as Charles Leclerc inexplicably spun at Turn 14 on lap 38. It later emerged that a Ferrari PU failure pitched his car into a spin. Using the electrics of his Hybrid unit, the Monegasque was able to recover the situation to guide it back to the pits and avoid a Safety Car situation.

There was still a final stop to make, Verstappen making his last on lap 42 and regaining track position ahead of his chief race rival Bottas, after the Finn pitted seven laps later. Hamilton was next in, and emerged comfortably back into the lead, but the real race to the flag was now on between Bottas on the softs and Verstappen on the mediums.

And, despite Bottas enjoying the fresher Pirelli rubber, it was Verstappen who held firm to again underline his reputation as ‘best of the rest’ at the finish and the filling in the Mercedes sandwich.

“We clearly didn’t have the pace like Lewis, so we are very happy with second,” said Verstappen. “The start was crucial to get by Valtteri and from then on I was just trying to do my own pace.”

It means that Hamilton extends his advantage at the top of the drivers’ standings to 30 points ahead of Verstappen, Bottas a further four points behind the Dutchman.

“I want to say thank you to all the guys back at the factory through this really difficult time and everyone in the world to continue on, keep pushing, stay safe,” added Hamilton. “I hope everyone at home is staying safe, wear masks. We have to.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.