Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz beat Max Verstappen and Red Bull to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix with a strategic masterstroke after losing the lead on the first lap.
Pole winner Hamilton started alongside Verstappen on the front row of the grid, but the Dutchman got the better start to go side by side into the first turn. He had the inside line and used the full width of the track to force Hamilton to yield or risk damage to his front wing to seize first place.
👀⏪ LAP 1/TURN 1
Verstappen and Hamilton at the start 💪#SpanishGP 🇪🇸 #F1 pic.twitter.com/eIN5aAmZzn
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 9, 2021
The news got worse for Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas, starting from third, slipped to fourth behind Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari driver sweeping around the Finn’s outside through the long Turn 3 in a beautiful first-lap move to split him from the front-runners.
Verstappen led Hamilton until Lap 25, by which time the Briton had got to within undercut range. That triggered Red Bull Racing to stop pre-emptively for fresh mediums.
But Verstappen’s pit stop was slow thanks to a delay bringing out the rear-left tire. It opened the door to Mercedes to capitalize by bringing in Hamilton on the following tour to snatch the lead, but instead the Briton remained out for another four laps before taking his own set of the medium compound. He emerged more than six seconds adrift of Verstappen, albeit with substantially fresher rubber.
Hamilton chased down the leader to get back within a second at the end of Lap 32 but couldn’t find a way past the 23-year-old, so instead Mercedes caught Red Bull Racing by surprise by pitting Hamilton a second time for another set of mediums on Lap 43.
Verstappen couldn’t respond, the Dutchman having used all his medium tires over the course of the weekend, setting up a 23-lap chase for victory. Hamilton didn’t need his full allocation of laps, reeling in the leader at rapid pace to catch and pass him at the first turn on Lap 60 to claim victory No. 98.
Hamilton takes the lead#SpanishGP 🇪🇸 #F1 pic.twitter.com/BCyJUtwKhj
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 9, 2021
“I feel great after this. I feel like we could go again,” a jubilant Hamilton said. “It was a long way to come back from 20-odd seconds back, but it was a good gamble. Really great strategy by the team.
“Just a remarkable job by everyone here in this team through and through. What a day.”
The victory stretched Hamilton’s title lead to 14 points.
Verstappen was sanguine in getting caught short on strategy, but a late pit stop after being passed for fresh soft tires at least earned him a bonus point for fastest lap.
“In a way I could see it coming,” he admitted. “Already at the end with the softs he was faster. When we put on the mediums he had a lot more pace.
“I knew it was over because I was already struggling with the tires — a bit of a sitting duck. There was not much we could’ve done.
“It shows we are not where we want to be. We have to push hard and catch up because we are a little bit slower.”
Bottas came home a distant third. Mercedes stopped him slightly early, on Lap 24, to undercut his way past Leclerc, but he didn’t have the pace on the medium tire to keep up with the front-runners, and he took the flag after a second stop more than 30 seconds adrift of the lead.
“It’s a bit of a shame, but at least we made it to the podium,” he said. “As a team we’re still scoring solid points but not perfect points, so there’s still work to do.
Leclerc came home a comfortably fourth for Ferrari, the Monegasque virtually alone on the track bar his run-ins with Bottas at the start of the race and again when passed late by the freshly shod Finn.
Sergio Perez salvaged fifth after a difficult qualifying had him start eighth on the grid. The Mexican gained two places at the start and spent most of the race bottled behind the slower McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo until launching a sweet move around the Australian’s outside on Lap 45 to claim 10 points.
Ricciardo battles Ocon and Sainz. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images
Ricciardo stopped for a set of soft tires on the following tour, his mediums badly worn, to rejoin the race eighth. He passed teammate Lando Norris and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in short order with the grippiest compound to take the flag sixth.
Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon were the two drivers demoted by the rising Ricciardo and Perez. The Alpine led the Ferrari early in the race, but Sainz undercut him at the first stops to lead Ocon in the second half of the race. The Spaniard followed Ricciardo into the pits for his second stop for softs, and rose back up the order with the Australian to get back past Ocon to finish seventh.
Lando Norris finished eighth to complete a quiet race for McLaren, the Briton’s afternoon most notable for being shown the black and white flag for some questionable defending against Sainz.
Ocon slipped to ninth behind Norris late in the race as one of only two drivers to complete the race with just a single pit stop, the Frenchman’s aging tires letting him down in the final laps of the afternoon.
Pierre Gasly completed the points-paying places with 10th for AlphaTauri, the Frenchman recovering from a five-second penalty for overshooting his grid box for the race start.
Aston Martin failed to score points for the second race in a season, with Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel 11th and 13th, split by Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were 14th and 16th, separated by Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, while Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin crossed the line 18th and 19th.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was the race’s only retirement, the Japanese out of the race early when his engine quit.