Formel 1 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Spanien 2017. Lewis Hamilton
Formula One – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Spanish GP 2017. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton fought tooth-and-nail to win the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – keeping the race for the drivers’ championship nail-bitingly close after the crucial early stages of the season. The Briton may have managed to convert his pole position into victory, but it was far from easy.

Off the line, wheelspin meant that Hamilton’s Mercedes was out-dragged by Vettel into the first corner. Meanwhile, teammate and Russia winner Valtteri Bottas, who himself got a great getaway from third, was caught up in the ensuing battle, and was at the mercy of last year’s winner Max Verstappen and the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

As the three drivers came abreast into Turn 1, Bottas collided into the rear of Raikkonen. This gave the latter no choice but to countersteer into Verstappen’s Red Bull, putting them both out of the race. The two out-of-control cars then crawled back onto the racing line, causing Williams’ Felipe Massa to push home favourite Fernando Alonso – whose mega effort on Saturday put his McLaren seventh on the grid – off the track.

Großer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang WilhelmGroßer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Back at the head of the pack, Vettel held the early advantage, pulling out a lead of more than two seconds over Hamilton. The German pitted early on lap 14 and was able to build on that advantage with fresh soft tyres – by the time Hamilton went in and out of the pits on lap 21 the gap had widened to eight seconds.

But Bottas, who stayed out and was now in the lead, brought Vettel’s sterling turn of pace to a screeching halt, the latter finding no way past the slower Mercedes. That enabled Hamilton to close the gap to just over three seconds, before Vettel swooped past Bottas into Turn 1 in a brilliant right-left-right manoeuvre on lap 25. The Finn then let Hamilton through a lap later, before retiring on lap 39 due to a failure on his old engine, which had to be refitted on Saturday after his new one sprung a water leak.

On the quicker soft tyres compared to Hamilton’s medium compounds, Vettel built the lead he had lost behind Bottas. But on lap 34 McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne clumsily clattered into Massa, triggering a virtual safety car – and the quick-acting Mercedes team brought Hamilton in on lap 36 to switch back onto soft tyres. Vettel only followed suit for medium tyres a lap later, after the VSC period had ended.

Großer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Steve EtheringtonGroßer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

When Vettel rejoined the track, he held onto the inside line against the fast-approaching Hamilton as they went side by side into Turn 1, forcing the Mercedes off the track. Vettel kept the lead, but Hamilton now had the advantage in tyre compounds, managing to close in and then use DRS to swing past Vettel on the main straight on lap 44.

Ferrari banked on Hamilton’s soft tyres wearing out quicker, and Vettel ate into the four-second deficit in the closing stages of the race – only to then out-brake himself and nearly crashing into Massa while trying to lap him on lap 59. This effectively handed the win to Hamilton, who crossed the line nearly 3.5 seconds ahead.

Behind them, the sole remaining Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo was the beneficiary of the exit of Raikkonen, Verstappen and Bottas, with the Australian making it to the final podium step more than 75 seconds behind Hamilton. Force India not only kept both cars in the points yet again this year, but bagged home two strong finishes with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finishing fourth and fifth. Renault’s Nico Hulkenburg took sixth.

Großer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Steve EtheringtonGroßer Preis von Spanien 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein punched well above his weight by crossing the line in seventh place, but was handed a five-second penalty for a late pit lane entry, dropping him down to eighth. His place was usurped by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz; his teammate Daniil Kvyat and Haas’ Romain Grosjean rounded off the points-paying positions.

Bringing up the rear were Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Alonso (who could not score points despite his starting position and a late charge, but at least managed to finish a race for the first time this season), Massa, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen (who suffered a puncture near the end of the race after clashing with Kvyat), Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Williams’ Lance Stroll.

With his latest win, Hamilton has closed the title battle right down, with 98 points amassed in the first five races of the season – just six behind Vettel’s 104 points. Meanwhile, Mercedes has extended its lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ standings, with 161 points versus the latter’s 153.