Sebastian Vettel won his fourth race of the season – and extended his championship advantage to 41 points – in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, holding off a charging Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps.
But he used the advantage of the Red Bull in the faster corners to keep Hamilton at bay in the crucial DRS zone. It was a great display of defensive driving.
It was a very tense battle, two young world champions both at the top of their game.
The Red Bulls had qualified a full second ahead of the McLarens but in race trim there was nothing between them, with the McLaren seemingly more comfortable on the hard tyres.
Jenson Button was third over half a minute behind, the only font runner to do just three stops rather than four, with pole sitter Mark Webber fourth and Alonso a distant fifth. Michael Schumacher had his best race this year in sixth, staying ahead of his team mate Rosberg having passed him with a superb start.
The start was sensational. Both Red Bulls got off the line well, but on the long run to Turn 1 they didn’t have a strong second phase when the KERS kicked in at 100km/h. Vettel weaved a couple of times to block Alonso, but the Spaniard dived down the inside and squeezed past Webber to take the lead. It was a very determined move and gave him the tactical advantage of track position at the start.
Jenson Button had a poor start to drop to 10th, while Michael Schumacher who started on soft tyres made a great start to sixth, ahead of team mate Rosberg, although his pace wasn’t great in the opening laps.
Expectations that the DRS wing would encourage overtaking on this track which has been notoriously difficult to pass on, were dashed early on and there were only a handful of DRS passes today, while the tyres did produce plenty of overtakes.
The first round of stops came early, with Vettel the first of the leaders to come in on lap 10. Alonso and Webber covered him on the following lap, making their stops. Vettel had to pass Button and Massa on his out lap and did so decisively to keep his challenge alive.
Webber wasn’t so lucky, hitting traffic and losing third place to Lewis Hamilton in the undercut. This was where his strategy went wrong and he didn’t recover from it.
Button went to lap 14, the optimum time to stop for a three stopper. He made quick progress on his new soft tyres, passing Schumacher on lap 17.
Vettel stopped again onto his set of new soft tyres on lap 19, an attacking strategy which immediately paid dividends as he passed Alonso on the undercut when the Spaniard pitted a lap later.
Hamilton took the lead when Alonso pitted and had great speed on his worn tyres setting the fastest lap of the race to that point on lap 21.
He stayed out and managed to make his older tyres work for him to lap faster than Alonso and when he pitted on lap 24 he was ahead of Alonso and Webber.
On tyres that were four laps fresher he pulled away from the Ferrari and got to within 1.6 seconds of Vettel by lap 31, when Webber and Alonso stopped again.
Button made his second stop on lap 31, and rejoined in fifth place. He closed up on the battle between Alonso and Webber, who were much slower on the hard tyres.
They passed and repassed each other on lap 34, as Vettel came in for his third pit stop.
Hamilton retook the lead and then pitted a lap later, coming out right behind Vettel.
Button passed Webber for fourth place on lap 36 his soft tyres making all the difference and he passed Alonso later on the same lap.
He then set about building a margin over them, which he would need in the final stint when they would be on soft tyres. He made it work perfectly and took his podium; a great result after a poor start and 10th place on the opening lap. He made his three stop strategy work brilliantly
In the closing stages Hamilton was right with Vettel on the hard tyres, doing all the details right, but he couldn’t get close enough in the middle sector to make it count across the pit straight.
“It was pretty tough,” said Vettel. “I don’t understand where Fernando came from at the start. We got him at the first stop. Lewis was very strong (on hard tyres). He gave us a very hard time. But we made it. A great result. ”
Hamilton said, “I don’t think we can be disappointed. We had some serious pace, but it was hard to get past Sebastian they were massively quick in the high downforce. I gave it my all.”
Four drivers including Hamilton, Button and Webber were investigated by the stewards, which included Mark Blundell as the driver steward, after the race for not slowing under yellow flags. They were not given a punishment, instead they given a warning not to do it again.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, 66 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull 1h39:03.301
2. Hamilton McLaren + 0.630
3. Button McLaren + 35.697
4. Webber Red Bull + 47.966
5. Alonso Ferrari + 1 lap
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
7. Rosberg Mercedes + 1 lap
8. Heidfeld Renault + 1 lap
9. Perez Sauber + 1 lap
10. Kobayashi Sauber + 1 lap
11. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
12. Di Resta Force India + 1 lap
13. Sutil Force India + 1 lap
14. Buemi Toro Rosso + 1 lap
15. Maldonado Williams + 1 lap
16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 2 laps
17. Barrichello Williams + 2 laps
18. Trulli Lotus + 2 laps
19. Glock Virgin + 3 laps
20. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 3 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT + 4 laps