Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018

Commanding win puts Hamilton’s bid for a fifth title on track

2018 Spanish Grand Prix review

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The Spanish Grand Prix wasn’t Lewis Hamilton’s first F1 race win of 2018, but it was a breakthrough.

A strong day for Mercedes coincided with Ferrari’s weakest performance of the season so far, and the result was a one-two finish which means the silver cars now lead both championships.

Hamilton’s confidence-boosting win

“In our simulation a one-stop [strategy] here is very difficult,” predicted Pirelli’s sporting director Mario Isola on Friday evening at the Circuit de Catalunya.

“They should have a clear advantage to go on a two-stop strategy because if the tyre change is decided by the wear, you take the risk to go to 100% wear you have a cliff, and then you lose a lot of time.”

That wasn’t how things turned out for the majority of the field, almost all of which made just a single visit to the pits during the race. Hamilton, who led them all home, said it was “a very easy one-stop” for him.

If his Azerbaijan Grand Prix win had been (hashtag) blessed by fortune, in Spain he was the class of the field. Valtteri Bottas looked in good shape throughout practice but Hamilton edged him for pole position by the slender margin of four-hundredths of a second.

In the race Bottas got drawn into a fight with Sebastian Vettel while Hamilton made good his escape. He didn’t ease up until the final sector of the last lap, and had a 20 second margin when he saw the chequered flag. The hunt for a fifth world championship is on.

Vettel slips off the podium

Vettel endured his most difficult day in the office so far this year, which leaves him trailling Hamilton by 17 points in the championship.

It started promisingly as the Ferrari’s strong acceleration helped Vettel split the front row-sharing Mercedes at the start. But by lap 16 Hamilton was seven seconds up the road and Ferrari knew Vettel’s 1.7 second margin over Bottas was not enough to keep him safe if the Mercedes driver dared to pit early and gain the benefit of fresher tyres. And there was the ‘cliff’ of tyre performance to beware of, too. Vettel was duly summoned in.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
A slow pit stop dropped Bottas behind Vettel again
His pit stop was adequate – he was never likely to make it out in front of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, so Ferrari must have been content to wait. Mercedes felt they could get away with leaving Bottas out an extra lap and his subsequent stop should have kept him ahead of Vettel. But a slow change dropped him back behind the Ferrari.

Few of the other leading drivers were tempted to pit this early. A lengthy Safety Car period at the start had helped tip them over into the realm of a two stop. As the laps ticked by and the likes of Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bulls stayed out, Vettel’s first pit stop started to look increasingly hasty.

This had shades of the 2016 race, when Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo dropped themselves out of contention for victory by pitting when they might have stayed out. This time, Vettel was adamant Ferrari had to bring him in for another pit stop.

On the face of it seemed surprising given that he won in Bahrain, on a track where defending a position is much harder, by ekeing out a set of soft tyres far longer than was thought possible. But he was clearly struggling to keep his front-left tyre alive.

And while Bottas managed 47 laps on his medium compound tyres, the canvas was beginning to show by the end of the race. Mercedes ran to the limit on tyres which had been reduced in thickness by 0.4 millimetres to aid temperature control at this race (a tweak Vettel attributed to the lobbying of rival teams).

However Vettel made no excuses for Ferrari’s relatively poor showing. “To the end we weren’t quick enough and our tyres didn’t last as long as others. Otherwise I’d stay out, stay in front of Valtteri and finish second. It wasn’t an option and we finished fourth.”

Vettel also pointed out the reliability of the team’s car was unsatisfactory too. Raikkonen had a power unit change on Saturday and dropped out with more power-related problems in the race. Five races into a season where power units have to last seven, as the signs of strain beginning to tell?

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Verstappen still can’t keep it clean

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Ricciardo spun away his chances
“It feels nice to be on the podium and nice to have a good clean race,” said Max Verstappen after taking his best result of the year so far with third. “Clean” might have been exaggerating how well it went, as he almost wrecked his race and Lance Stroll’s by hitting the Williams driver during a Virtual Safety Car period.

Remarkably Stroll’s tyre remained intact and while Verstappen’s front wing didn’t, he was at least able to continue. The Red Bull driver tightened his differential and continued pretty much as before.

“I felt a bit more understeer in turn three and nine, and maybe braking a bit deeper into hairpins but, it was not too bad to be honest,” he said. “It was a little bit slower but I don’t think it affected me too much.” He was able to keep the recovering Vettel behind, though the Ferrari driver closed quickly on the final lap.

However Daniel Ricciardo didn’t have an error-free race either, spinning at the end of the VSC period. He described his car’s handling was like it was on a knife-edge, and though he set the fastest lap of the race for the third time this year he was well down in fifth place.

Magnussen rises above the midfield

With Raikkonen out, Magnussen won a one-car race for sixth place. The Haas driver was 50 seconds behind the next car and 36 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer at the end of the race.

He would have had his team mate to scrap with, but Romain Grosjean’s miserable season continue when he lost control of his car while following his team mate on lap one. Inexplicably spinning his tyres as the Haas pirouetted in the pack, he eliminated the blamed Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly from the race.

When Grosjean joined the Haas project it was supposed to be a stepping stone towards a Ferrari seat. But with no points to his team mate’s 19 and two wrecked cars in as many races, both due to incidents which were entirely his fault, that seems completely unrealistic. This was the clearest example yet of Haas’s potential being realised by one driver and squandered by the other.

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Leclerc makes his point again

Marcus Ericsson, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Sainz passed Ericsson in superb style
The two home drivers followed a long way behind Magnussen, Fernando Alonso doing an impressive job in his updated McLaren to close on Carlos Sainz Jnr for seventh at the end.

Alonso had been badly delayed by the first-lap drama, scuppering his brave attempt to make up ground at the start on the super-soft tyres, which everyone else was avoiding like the plague (Sergey Sirotkin was the only other driver to run it, partly because Williams had selected too many of them.)

Force India’s revised car didn’t provide the obvious step forward they were hoping for. Sergio Perez delivered points for ninth but he had been running behind his team mate before a series of misfortunes ruined Esteban Ocon’s race.

Charles Leclerc grabbed another point for Sauber while Lance Stroll dragged the ill-handling Williams home in 11th. That probably flattered it, as he was pursued by Brendon Hartley, plus Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber.

Mercedes’ bogey track next

While this was clearly Mercedes’ strongest showing and best result of the year so far, everything we’ve seen so far indicates the performance of each team is highly track and tyre-specific in 2018.

The silver team’s attention will now turn to Monaco: a race where they struggled last year and can expect to face the renewed strength of Ferrari and Red Bull 12 months on. If Spain felt a bit like watching past seasons again, that may all change again in a few days’ time.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Start, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Commanding win puts Hamilton’s bid for a fifth title on track”

  1. Doesn’t really though does it. Vettel has seemed better most of the time so Hamilton still has a lot to do, too early to say he’s on track for another championship. IT’S A LONG SEASON.

    1. Hamilton has been more consistent. His worst result of the year, on that very weak performance on China, is what Vettel could get on the last 2 races.

      1. FlatSix (@)
        16th May 2018, 9:48

        Really the only thing you can fault Vettel for this season is his move in Baku, for which Bottas got a whole lot of slander after Bahrein for not trying at all. I hope the tense of the last four races resumes and Barcelona was a one off and this great season can continue.

  2. Interesting comment from Hamilton while waiting for the podium ceremony about helping Bottas out at the start… It really looks like they are getting along well. After all Bottas is not that far in the championship.

    1. @jeanrien I missed that bit, can you explain some more?

      1. Hamilton was saying he should have pulled in front of Bottas to give him the tow to stop Vettel getting past

        1. @philipgb Thanks, a nice idea, kind of presumes Bottas wouldn’t have then gone past him though!

    2. Hamilton seems to genuinely like Bottas, not simply mutual respect like for Button, or trying to revive a childhood friendship, like Rosberg, but affection. I hope to God this doesn’t turn sour.

      1. That’s inevitable if they end up being the only title contenders and very close in the standings.

        1. Except BOT will never push HAM over the course of a season. So he’s safe.

      2. @sundark it’s easy to have friends when you’re beating them…

      3. They haven’t done much on track fighting yet and they’ve both been very fair with team orders so far.

  3. I’ll post this here just in case there isn’t going to be a separate stats and facts review article for this race after all:
    The most significant improvement in ultimate lap time this season so far compared to last season. A new ‘official’ lap record for the current 2007-present layout of this circuit was achieved as well. Also, the first time for a while that the fastest time set during the race weekend is faster than the fastest time set during pre-season testing. Furthermore, Hamilton’s overall race time is the 2nd lowest race winner’s overall time achieved on the current configuration of this circuit (the lowest to date is Massa’s 1:31:36.230 from the 2007 race).

    The first time in three years (coincidently, the first time since the 2015 edition of the Spanish GP) that Hulkenberg gets eliminated in Q1 already.

    The first Mercedes front-row lockout as well as the first one-two this season and the first of both examples since last season’s Abu Dhabi GP. Furthermore, Kimi and the RBR-drivers have each started from the same grid spot on this circuit for two consecutive seasons now as well as Hamilton, of course.

    The 4th race weekend out of five so far that has featured at least one unsafe-release in the pit lane.

    Grosjean, Hulkenberg, and Ocon have now DNF’d in two successive races while Raikkonen and Vandoorne have now DNF’d on this circuit for two seasons in a row, which subsequently also means that Vandoorne is still yet to reach the chequered flag on this particular GP venue. Furthermore, at the same time of being the 3rd DNF of his so far short F1-career, this was also Ocon’s first DNF that didn’t occur on lap one and wasn’t a result of a crash with another driver either. Also, Gasly’s 2nd DNF in F1 so far.

    The 2nd race in a row in which the SC comes out on track on the opening lap, and the 4th race out of five so far to feature at least one SC-period.

    The 2nd top-10 race finishing position in a row for Leclerc while Grosjean and Sirotkin are still the only drivers yet to score even a single point this season.

    Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, and Stroll are the drivers who still have a chance to achieve the feat of reaching the chequered flag in every race of a season after five races.

    1. @jerejj
      Terrific work.
      Keep ’em coming.

  4. Räikkönen has had really poor luck. Every race he’s finished, he’s been on the podium. If we assume Bahrain didn’t go wrong, he’d have been third and today as well, his strategy was the one stop which would have put him ahead of Vettel. He’s actually looking like a serious contender for the title. Hopefully reliability doesn’t cost the championship.

    1. @godoff1, actually, Raikkonen’s stop which ruined his race in Bahrain would have put him behind Hamilton, whose tyres were in reasonable shape, so he would still have had to fight back onto the podium.

  5. [B]y lap 16 Hamilton was seven seconds up the road and Ferrari knew Vettel’s 1.7 second margin over Bottas was not enough to keep him safe if the Mercedes driver dared to pit early and gain the benefit of fresher tyres. And there was the ‘cliff’ of tyre performance to beware of, too. Vettel was duly summoned in.

    I don’t think this was a good enough reason to make an early pitstop. Tyre wear was fairly low, the tires had only done 10 laps in race conditions, he ended up behind Magnussen after his stop, and his stop was apparently too early to finish the race without further stops. So Ferrari really messed up Vettel’s strategy. Also, I haven’t seen any evidence of tyres falling off the cliff. Tyre wear seemed quite predictable and low, so Vettel’s second stop was basically just for safety reasons (the tyres possibly wouldn’t last), but his fresh tyres didn’t give him much of a performance advantage.

    1. @f1infigures It probably was just a combination of a bad strategy call from Ferrari and Vettel overdriving the car and thus ruining his tyres prematurely.

      Vettel’s tyres were blistering and he was dropping pace, so he couldn’t have gone much longer either.

  6. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    15th May 2018, 11:00

    It would be interesting if Bottas hadn’t retired in Baku though. As Hamilton would only be 5 points ahead of Bottas with 88 and Bottas with 83. And with those points, I would say their luck this season would have pretty much been even. Then Vettel would also be behind those 2. Pace wise, Bottas is right up there with Vettel and Hamilton and things could potentially go his way if Hamilton and Vettel happen to retire in a race.

    1. If it weren’t for Melbourne, Hamilton would have been 7 point further up the road!

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        15th May 2018, 13:44

        And if you think about it further, both Bottas and Hamilton lost a win. Hamilton in Australia, Bottas in China. So that is why I am making the comparison in the way I did. 5 points difference is a fairly realistic difference in points between them. If I don’t include Baku, the only bit of bad luck Hamilton had compared to Bottas was his grid penalty in Bahrain. But even then, he had 3 top cars retire (2 of which were ahead of him) and was out qualified by Bottas. So we don’t actually know if he will have managed to beat Bottas anyway.
        I expect Hamilton to get back on form soon, but there is no doubt Bottas is looking pretty close to him.

  7. FlatSix (@)
    16th May 2018, 9:37

    “They should have a clear advantage to go on a two-stop strategy because if the tyre change is decided by the wear, you take the risk to go to 100% wear you have a cliff, and then you lose a lot of time.”

    Is anyone actually keeping track of the amount of times Pirelli is plain wrong about the fastest strategy? So often they completely miss it, on top ever since 2014 track position is always better than fresh tyres it seems.

Comments are closed.