May 11, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth consecutive Formula 1 victory at today’s Spanish Grand Prix, fending off the challenge of teammate Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of the race to hang on and seize the lead of the drivers’ championship.
The British driver managed to combat a few setup problems and a split strategy compared to that of his teammate to take to the top step of the podium in Spain for the very first time. Rosberg put up a valiant fight to try and deny Hamilton yet another victory, but was unable to pass the 2008 world champion despite closing in the final stages of the race.
Daniel Ricciardo finally secured his first podium finish after suffering heartbreak in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, and led home teammate Sebastian Vettel, who, having started down in 15th place, put in a fine display. Valtteri Bottas lost out to the German driver in the final few laps, but managed to bring his car home in fifth.
The start saw Hamilton make a clean getaway to stay in the lead ahead of Rosberg. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was the big mover at turn one, passing Daniel Ricciardo to jump up into third place. Romain Grosjean locked up when trying to also find a way past the Red Bull, but remained in fifth place. Having started down in 15th, Vettel made a poor start and lost a position, and his efforts were not helped when Kevin Magnussen made contact with him in the final chicane.
Pastor Maldonado didn’t show any signs of backing off despite his crash yesterday, and was lucky to continue after colliding with one of the Caterham cars. He did receive a stop/go penalty for the incident, though.
Having lost P3 off the line, Ricciardo quickly set about re-claiming the position from Bottas, but the Finn kept his Williams as wide as possible to stop him from getting past. The Australian opted to back off to get some clear air, while his teammate finally found his feet to fight past Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil to move up to 13th place behind Jenson Button. However, Vettel then pitted to get out of traffic, and appeared to be set for a three stop strategy.
At the front, Mercedes wasted no time in opening up a lead over the rest of the field. Hamilton and Rosberg were lapping at over one second per lap quicker than the other drivers, but the gap between the two remained constant at around two seconds. When the Briton eventually pitted, Rosberg was released into the lead, and quickly set about establishing a lead over his teammate. Ultimately, he was forced to pit just three laps later, and rejoined the track behind Hamilton. However, he was on a different tire to that of his teammate.
As Bottas remained ahead, Ricciardo took to the pits for a fresh set of tires. Bottas went far longer into the race on his set of starting tires, and as a result lost out to the Red Bull driver. After stopping, Kimi Raikkonen held onto sixth position ahead of Fernando Alonso, but the Spaniard was forced to lock up to avoid hitting his teammate on pit exit. Raikkonen duly set his sights on Grosjean in front, and found a way past on lap 25 to move up into fifth place, with Alonso following suit just one lap later.
Mercedes sought to manage the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg as they were on split strategies, but the race leader began to feel uncomfortable with the back-end of his car. Nevertheless, he continued to eke out a gap to Rosberg, and enjoyed a 4.5 second lead as the race hit half distance.
Sebastian Vettel’s fightback continued at the expense of Kevin Magnussen, and he was soon up into seventh place behind Alonso in the Ferrari. Both managed to find a way past Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn took to the pits a few laps later.
With 22 laps to go, Hamilton dived into the pits for a fresh set of tires and a slight front wing adjustment. A small delay in the pits cost him about a second, and this gave Rosberg a fighting chance to putting the hammer down and catching his teammate. The German pitted two laps later, emerging some way behind Hamilton, although he was on the quicker tire. This soon began to show as Rosberg halved the gap to Hamilton, and with 15 laps to go was just 2.5 seconds behind.
Ricciardo and Bottas both pitted on the same lap as Rosberg, and the Australian looked poised to secure his first podium finish. Bottas came out behind Alonso and Vettel, though, but was released up into fifth place when the defending world champion dived into the pits. Alonso followed Vettel’s example, and came out behind the Red Bull as the duo set their sights on catching Kimi Raikkonen in fifth place. Vettel quickly disposed of Ferrari with a great overtake at turn ten, and Alonso also managed to find a way past before the end of the race to finish in sixth. Vettel himself pushed on to pass Bottas and eventually finish the race in fourth place.
Rosberg refused to lie down at the front, and with lots of fuel in reserve, he cut the gap to just 1.2 seconds with eight laps to go. Hamilton continued to report problems with graining on his tires. Soon, the German was within DRS range, but he was still not close enough to make it past. With just two laps to go, Rosberg was on Hamilton’s rear wing, but he simply could not find a way through, and eventually finished just 0.6 seconds behind his teammate.
With this win, Hamilton takes the lead of the drivers’ championship, and is certainly the man to beat heading to the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. However, Rosberg proved himself to be a worthy adversary today, and it is clear that he will not be backing down in the face of his teammate’s dominance.