After scoring his 100th pole position, Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix thanks to a superior pitstop strategy to rival Max Verstappen.
The two title contenders came extremely close to touching at Turn 1, with Verstappen making an aggressive move to get ahead, which forced Mercedes into making two bold strategy calls to get Hamilton back into a position to win his 98th Grand Prix.
At the start, Verstappen appeared to make a faster getaway from the front row, but dipped in behind Hamilton once the Mercedes shot up to speed.
But Verstappen stole to the inside for the first corner and boldly held on to take the racing line through Turn 2, which meant the two leaders came very close to touching – Hamilton backing out and a collision avoided by the barest of margins.
Bottas followed the top three through the opening two turns, but as he trailed Hamilton through Turn 3 he was overtaken by Charles Leclerc roaring around on the outside line – emulating Fernando Alonso’s similar move at the start of the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
Leclerc muscling into third meant the top two easily began to romp away in the closing stages of the 66-lap race, with Verstappen and Hamilton the only drivers lapping in the one minute, 23 seconds.
Verstappen was able to edge clear to a near two-second lead before Hamilton had just begun to close back in when the race was suspended by a safety car period called on lap eight so Yuki Tsunoda’s car could be recovered from the outside of the reprofiled Turn 10 – the AlphaTauri appearing to shutdown on Tsunoda as he approached the long left-hander.
When the race restarted on lap 11, Verstappen dropped Hamilton exiting the final chicane and weaved across the main straight to try and disrupt the tow going back the Mercedes, which was in any case close to the following Leclerc.
As DRS was suspended for the first two laps after the restart, Hamilton could not get close while running at just under a second behind and Verstappen was able to just creep his advantage up above the critical one-second threshold when DRS was reactivated.
Much like at the start, Verstappen and Hamilton quickly pulled clear of Leclerc and Bottas – again lapping at a low one minute, 23 seconds pace that the rest of the pack could not match.
As the race moved past the end of its first third, Hamilton began to heavily pressure Verstappen, who pitted at the end of lap 24 to take the medium tyres – but had to endure a 4.2 seconds stop as the Red Bull’s new left-rear tyre was still coming out of the garage when the Dutchman arrived at his box.
But Mercedes did not bring Hamilton in to cover the Red Bull stop on the next tour – team boss Toto Wolff heard complaining to race director Michael Masi about Nikita Mazepin holding up Hamilton on the lap after Verstappen came in.
Hamilton was left out for three further laps before he came in to take the mediums, with Leclerc following him in far behind and emerging well adrift of Bottas, who had pitted the lap before Verstappen.
Verstappen comfortably retook the lead with Hamilton in the pits and had a 5.5s lead at the end of the Mercedes driver’s out-lap.
But Hamilton’s tyre offset meant he could run at a much quicker pace – the world champion carving into Verstappen’s lead by around 1.5 seconds a lap as he logged successive laps in low-to-mid one minute, 21 seconds.
By the start of lap 34, he was just a second behind the leader and continued to home in – with Mercedes even telling Bottas that his pace in third was good enough to catch the Red Bull by the end.
In the subsequent phase of the race, Hamilton was in and out of Verstappen’s DRS range, but was unable to get really close to the leader, who had upped his pace significantly to reach the one minute, 21 seconds bracket when Hamilton reached the critical on-second deficit.
With the gap at the front relatively stable, Mercedes made an aggressive call to pit Hamilton again at the end of lap 42 for another set of mediums – these ones used from earlier in the weekend.
At the end of Hamilton’s out-lap, he faced a 22 seconds gap to close, with Red Bull opting to leave Verstappen out on a one-stopper to the finish as he had no medium tyres left heading into the race.
Hamilton again carved into Verstappen’s lead – regularly setting fastest laps and going over 1.5 seconds quicker – but he did appear to lose time at one point passing Bottas just as the final 15 laps approached, with the second Mercedes ordered not to hold up the other car, but Hamilton still having to make closer-than-comfortable move into Turn 10 on lap 53.
But once Hamilton was clear he continued to rapidly close in on Verstappen with a string of fastest laps and reached the leader again on lap 59.
As they ran down the pit straight at the start of the next tour, Verstappen weaved to break the tow once again, but Hamilton’s pace was so much higher with DRS that he shot ahead on the outside line and swept back into the lead at the exact spot he had lost it on the opening lap.
Red Bull immediately then opted to pit Verstappen for a second time to chase the fastest lap bonus point – a tactic Mercedes had already taken with Bottas.
Hamilton came home with a comfortable 15.8 seconds lead at the finish, with Verstappen winning the battle to take the fastest lap with a one minute, 18.149 seconds.
Leclerc finished a lonely fourth – Bottas had had to pass him with a DRS blast in the closing stages after the Mercedes driver’s late second stop – well clear of Sergio Perez, who came home fifth after winning a lengthy mid-race scrap with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Carlos Sainz finished seventh ahead of Lando Norris, who received a black-and-white flag sanction for an aggressive late move to defend against the Ferrari into Turn 1 as the race entered its final quarter.
Esteban Ocon lost ground from his fifth place grid spot at the start and he eventually came home ninth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who came out on top of an intense fight with the pack just outside the top ten – which was at the time headed by Fernando Alonso, who eventually came home P17 – in the final laps.
Gasly had to serve a five-second penalty at his first stop for lining up too far over of his grid spot for the start.
So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in winning the Spanish Grand Prix from title rival Max Verstappen. The two-stop strategy was far superior even though track position is key around this circuit. Better grip and speed will reward a great result.
Spanish Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33:07.680
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 15.841
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 26.610
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 54.616
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:03.671
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:13.768
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:14.670
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
– Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda DNF