MONTMELO, Spain — official release — Mercedes photo — Lewis Hamilton took his fourth straight victory for Mercedes and moved into a three-point championship lead over teammate Nico Rosberg after winning the Spanish Grand Prix by holding off the German on Sunday.
Just as it had in Bahrain, when the pair staged another spectacular duel, their fight developed into one of differing strategies.
Called in earlier than he wanted on the 43rd lap – and after staying out for one more than the team requested – Hamilton had to fight to the finish on a set of hards as Rosberg, who stopped on the 44th lap, went back to the faster mediums.
Right away Hamilton found himself struggling on the harder compound, and a lead of 4.8 seconds on the 46th lap was steadily reduced — it fell to just two seconds over the six ensuing laps before the Englishman found a better way to preserve his tires and reopened the gap to 2.7 seconds on lap 54.
Rosberg was relentless in pursuit however, and two laps later Hamilton’s lead was back down to 2.1 seconds, being shaved to less than a second on Lap 59 before Hamilton gained precious breathing space by opening it back up to 1.3 seconds by the 60th circuit.
They went into their final lap separated by only six tenths of a second, nose to tail, with everything to play for and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari to lap as they sped into Turn 1. Hamilton got by the red car before the corner, but so did Rosberg.
Through Turn 1 Hamilton kept it together, then through Turn 3, and gradually Rosberg’s hopes faded. He needed, he admitted, just one more lap to launch an attack.
To the relief of the entire Mercedes crew, including team boss Dieter Zetsche, both of the Silver Arrows made it across the finish line intact, still separated by six-tenths of a second. It was their fourth consecutive one-two finish.
“A big thank-you to my team, they’ve just done an incredible job this year,” Hamilton said. “I’m really happy with the support I’ve had here in Spain, it’s the best I’ve ever had, so thank you to everyone in the grandstands, it means the world to me. My first win here in Spain, it means everything to me.”
Daniel Ricciardo took a podium slot for the first time in his career after a strong run in third, but he was 49 seconds behind Hamilton at the finish.
Red Bull got a big boost as a feisty drive from four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel, courtesy of a three-stop strategy, brought him past the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and into fourth at the final flag.
A three-stopper also worked for Fernando Alonso, who played second fiddle to two-stopping Ferrari team mate Raikkonen for much of the race. The Spaniard moved by the Finn with three laps to go, but his sixth place was very distant – Hamilton’s Mercedes was 87.7 seconds up the road, and had lapped the seventh-place Ferrari of Raikkonen.
Romain Grosjean fought brake problems, which dropped him behind the Ferraris, to score Lotus’s first points of the season in eighth, one second ahead of the dueling Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.
McLaren’s Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were in the fight for midfield points most of the way, but just didn’t quite have the pace to better 11th and 12th places, while a very disappointed Felipe Massa found a three-stop strategy failing to work out for him as he took 13th for Williams.
Daniil Kvyat didn’t have a car capable of more than 14th for Toro Rosso on an afternoon when an exhaust problem rendered team mate Jean-Eric Vergne the first of two retirements. Kamui Kobayashi was the other retirement after his second brake failure of the season.
Pastor Maldonado was given a five-second stop-and-go penalty for clobbering Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham early on and wound up 15th.
Hamilton now leads the driver’s standings with 100 points to Rosberg’s 97. Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo complete the top five, but all of them are more than 50 points adrift of Hamilton.
In the constructors’ war, Mercedes extends their dominant lead to 113 points over second place Red Bull, while Ferrari moves ahead of Force India to third in constructor points.
The Formula 1 World Championship resumes with the biggest race of the season May 25th in Monte Carlo as the Monaco Grand Prix gets underway.