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Vettel holds off Hamilton to win tense Spanish Grand Prix
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Vettel holds off Hamilton to win tense Spanish Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 May 2011   |  3:12 pm GMT  |  218 comments

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.

Vettel: 41 points clear in standings (Red Bull)

It was Vettel’s 14th career win and one of his most hard fought with Hamilton’s pressure very intense. Vettel did not have KERS for much of the race, yet another reliability issue which he had to deal with in qualifying and the race. Sooner or later that is going to really start costing them, especially as McLaren are right there on race pace.

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

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James – can you give any insight to why the Red Bull’s KERS seems so unreliable compared to others? Is it to do with cooling the system? Or perhaps the structural integrity of the installation? Has Adrian Newey’s ‘no compromise of the Aero’ made for a difficult solution to one of the fundamentals of rechargeable on-board power supplies (speaking as someone involved in such a development for a rechargeable battery pack for a road car, they are several and substantive).

Thanks for any snippets you can share so we cn better understand why they more than others haven’t got KERS seemingly nailed. Chris.


Yes it seems it’s a bit of an afterthought, rather than a priority, so the packaging is compromised and it overheats. It’s also not standard as used by Renault but modified.


Great races by several drivers which made it a very enjoyable race. Sadly I cannot say the same about many of the comments here. It seems favoritism/patriotism is becoming more important than rational discussion.


That’s the Internet for you!


That was the best Spanish GP in decades! A really good tactical battle and the track looked great.

BUT, what on earth is going on with the FOM TV directors?

They keep making bizarre choices on who to follow during the race, missing overtakes and pointlessly following every pit stop.

I have to say the FOM TV directors this year are really not doing the best job they can.

Quite honestly there were some bizarre cut aways from great on track overtaking to inconsequential pit stops!

This was especially bad in Spain but also bad in Turkey.

Why is this happening? I thought FOM got rid of regional TV host directors to avoid this kind of thing.

Hopefully someone will notice that the TV director is not doing a good job and get someone who can…


I was offline for most of yesterday so didnt get a chance to comment, but for whats its worth I thought it was a good race.

I still think there are better places to race than this track, but maybe that is mainly to do with the overally aero reliance of the cars and the exacerbation of current trend that cars cant follow each other.

It looks like Kers is going to continue to be the achilles heel and only chance for the others to catch up.

Excellent drives by Kamui, Lewis, Seb and Nick yesterday. And a good recovery from a poor position for Jenson.


On 4.655km Curcuit with 1047m straight, the only chance of any cars to be able to get pass Bulls is only in about 20% part of the circuit (the straight). 80% of it is Bulls’ teritory.

Thus, even you can get close to Bulls on the straight, you’re left counting “I N F I N I T Y” on the rest part of the circuit.

So, it’s more like great display getaway driving rather defensive driving as you mentioned, James. Since Vettel was not really driving defensively :).


They say they keep doing everything possible to “give a better show” for the fans. But today I saw for a moment exactly the show I’ve been waiting for – Alonso P1, Vettel P2, Hamilton P3 – a World Champion sandwich, separated by little more than a second. Finally a chance to see if Vettel can overtake. A battle between rivals Hamilton and Alonso. It was glorious seeing the three of them so close and imagining the various scenarios that could unfold. Then Vettel pitted. Then Hamilton pitted. And position changes occurred in the pits, no different than years ago. Except now it’s tires, tires, tires. Talking about tire preservation is about as interesting as talking about fuel economy, which is about as interesting as watching paint dry. Today we had a chance to see three world champions take each other head on… and instead, they pitted for tires. How exciting. How wonderful for the show.

So I’m still left wondering, can Vettel overtake? If I recall, he tried one time and ended up spearing Button’s radiator. He should try again sometime.


Yeah I guess it is not to hard to overtake someone on old tires whereas you are on fresh ones. So he has not yet proven to be good overtaker. At least not to me.


5 world champions in the top 6. Almost perfect!


virtuoso performances by both Seb and Lewis, showing why they are both considered at the very top of the pyramid.


What a spectacular start from Alonso but only to be gobbled up gradually. And what happened to Webber, he just couldn’t get up to speed as well as Vettel did.

Ferrari need to work 48 hours a day. Alonso’s proof of pushing the 150 to it’s limits can only go that far. How many more illusions can Alonso pull off from the ‘panting horse’. They were more than 1 sec behind Red Bull. Schucks. Finishing one lap behind the leaders was really awful.

Vettel too drove very well, and my fear is that he will wrap up his 2nd WDC way before the final race. Hope I’m very wrong here, but feels like it this year. 4 wins out of 5 races, what else is there to say unless more issues pop out which seems to be the problematic KERS. Red Bull is too reliable this year.

Lewis as usual muscled his way up, you can’t doubt this man with a blink that he’s not a deserving world class racer.

This was the best Spanish Grand Prix for a long long time. Overtaking was more genuine from tyre degradation and thank god DRS didn’t work well at all. REMOVE DRS!, we don’t want and don’t need it.

Oh yes, twinkle toes Button once again looming around and placed himself on the podium, That was great drive and strategy and he only needed 3 stops.

Practice 1 – Monaco.


The RB 1-2 snoozefest never transpired thanks to HAM pushing the envelope and ALO’s incredible start. Poor WEB.

I think this is one of VET’s greatest victories as he really had to put some effort into winning and proved that he has some overtaking skills tucked away.

I think we really have to acknowledge Pirelli and the working group for finally resolving the problem of boring race days. We also seem to be suffering a lot less from safety cars.

Presumably Montezemolo will be announcing the team restructuring imminently

Looking forward to next weekend already!


Great race, my favourite of the season, partly because it proves we don’t need DRS. Also, it was Vettel’s fifth win Jamees


Fourth, Hamilton won in China.


sorry, i had imagined an extra race betwen China and Turkey


The best Spanish Grandprix I have ever seen.

After a long time I saw two cars fight for the lead for more than 10 last laps.

I don’t understand why people are so convinced that Seb’s race craft has increased over the year. Today, of all days, was not about great defending. Infact, if Alonso’s Ferrari was able to keep the Red Bulls and the Mclaren from overtaking it for more than 15 laps, and then disappear once overtaken, I can see it was fairly easy for Seb to keep Lewis behind for 10 laps.

I still believe that the track characteristics play a massive role in the outcome of the races, for the forseeable future too.

I think that Red Bull gain massive advantage due to their DRS. It would be interesting to see if DRS is banned for the next weekend. I think I will confidently bet for Mclaren to take pole if the DRS is banned.



18 – Interesting new. – What do you make of this James? Thanks.



Great race! What a start from Alonso! How did he *do that?

It was really great to see Lotus up in the standings, with that new second per lap that they found… er, wait… ok, nvm.

And some of you guys really should go back and actually *look at your predictions for this race. I won’t name names but a couple of you are just hilarious.


Best Spanish GrandPrix I have watched since I got into F1 in 1988. One used to rely on engine/car failures to provide excitement for an otherwise processional race. Unlimited and unrestricted engine developments, ultra octane fuel admixtures, and varying tire supplies only allowed a dominant team at any particular time; dominant. Now the cars are super reliable with fixed engine/fuel/tire specifications and every tier of car performance categories are truly competitive and exciting to watch. This for me is the renaissance following the Schumacher years. Pirelli, DRS and KERS are the icing on the cake of the long running efforts to make F1 exciting. Bravo FIA!.


Much better spanish grandprix

Vettel deserved the victory

Disappointed to see ferrari falling back hugely

What a drive from Fernando alonso throughout the weekend

Stunning and best lap in quali for years easily in a sub-standard ferrari, then again in Race today showed is mettle

Being a alonso fan felt unhappy and disappointed (God is still driving the red machine)

This weekend clearly showed the true picture of a driver like felipe massa

What’s happening at ferrari, i wish and hoping for improved performance from ferrari (In terms of car and tyre management) atleast for rest of the season

Excellent frive by nick heifeld well


Toss up between Vettel and Hamilton. Extraordinary pace, skill, toughness and fairness by both.

Chump of the day? Mark Webber. When the previous ten pole-sitters in Spain win the race, finishing fourth (especially in the fastest car) is an embarrassment. He’s already 51 points behind his teammate.

scottie doesn't know

Webber’s pace and driving was fine. Refer to nsx’s post.


Very nice race compared to what spain usually give us.

Driver of the day: Vettel.

For the first time i think that the Maclaren was the fastest, at least the Hamilton’s Maclaren was fastest. He was almost every time recovering ground to Vettel in the dirty air, damaging more his tyres (not taking into account the difference between the cars effect on deggradation) because he was in dirty air,and chasing, and had DRS plus KERS all the time (even if KERS may have failed to deliver full power)

He even had the yellow button that the pitwall allow him to use in last laps 🙂

Nevertheless it was a great display of driving from hamilton too, always on the limit. While i found that Vettel while being a good driver it is easy to drive at the front with clean air, and the fastest car, today we saw a new guy in that RB. Huge ammount of pressure and he cope well with it.

I’m very young to remember well Senna’s days or anything behind that and the best i can recall in F1 is Schummi dominance era, so for me its very exciting too see 3 pilots head and shoulders above the rest, in a dimension of their own, and i only wish that Alonso had a good car to fight with. I still think that Vettel in a Maclaren couldn’t do what Hamilton does, neither what Alonso does, but for the first time i can put im in the same bag as those two.

While it is sad for me to see Maclaren fail to win WDC again this year, just thinking about the number of years that we will have to enjoy this 3 great drivers, especially the 2 younger ones it makes my day!


This race was close, very. Think McLaren are closer to Red Bull in race trim


We’re seeing good races but a boring championship. Qualifying needs a complete overhaul. I don’t see why the drivers should be allowed to use an overtaking device, DRS, in qualifying. It doesn’t make sense and the only result is to reward the cars with greatest downforce and make their advantage even more exaggerated. If Red Bull are able to open their wing in the middle of the corners while no other cars can, then they will continue to have this massive qualifying advantage all year and the championship will never catch fire. I don’t think they should be punished for being the best, but there’s no logic to DRS in qualifying and it’s hurting the show.

Also the tyre saving situation in quali is ludicrous. People pay to sit in the grandstands on a Saturday and increasingly teams aren’t bothering to run, or are running as little as they can. It makes sense for the teams – Heidfeld showed that. But it doesn’t make sense for the fans. The teams should be given a qualifying allowance of tyres so there’s no disadvantage to trying as hard as possible and putting on a good show.

Rather than concentrating on blown diffusers, the FIA should overhaul qualifying, and quickly. They’ve got the races right, now they just need to sort out quali and in so doing hopefully save the championship from tedium.


You echo my comments on a ‘rival’ site,

‘I find it almost paradoxical that we celebrated last season because of the 5-way fight, even though many of the races were fairly one-sided/processional, yet this year we have a good mix of overtaking and tyre wear and people now complain that it’s becoming a one horse race!’

You raise a very good point about fans paying for Saturday tickets and not treated to a proper show. I wonder if there will be another Fan’s Forum in London at which this point can be raised. To pay for ‘qualifying’ and have 7 minutes of silence in Q3 is taking it a bit far, then again in the old 1 hour sessions you might not see a top runner until the end..

However I’m not sure the issue is Red Bull putting it on pole all the time. We’ve seen in the races how close the McLaren is.

But yes – the ‘tyre saving’ situation demonstrated by Heidfeld is ridiculous – imagine what Petrov was thinking!

What would you suggest – 2 ‘qualifying’ soft tyres and a hard tyre for the top 10, and 1 soft and 1 hard for 10-17? It would incentivise teams to go for Q3 to ‘get’ an extra set of tyres and grid position.


There will be another Fans Forum in UK this summer. We’ll let you know more soon


This was discussed previously. Making more than one move to defend is forbidden EXCEPT AT THE START OF THE RACE!


After five GPs I think we may just have enough data to deliver some sort of verdict on DRS, Kers and Pirrellis as an overtaking package.

Many people say here they would like to see the DRS dropped, I am going to say however it would be better to make a bit more durable tyres.

DRS works or doesn’t work depending on where and for how long it is available to drivers, and we have seen that when it’s done right it gives us good racing. Apart from that it is one of the things contributing to the teams being in most caces a tad closer to RB during the race.

As to Pirrellis, well, it seems to me they are the reason why we see so much ‘sitting duck’ style overtaking.

I suggest DRS and kers should assist overtaking and tyres should last longer to give us better qualifying show and less ‘look after your tyres’ racing. Also it would be good to scrap compulsory two compounds, that should help too.

What do you guys think?


Hello Mario – I think it’s all swings and roundabouts really. To go from a dearth of overtaking to an abundance is perhaps a big shock for a lot of us!

– Echo your comments on DRS – Turkey was a bit much, Spain/Australia we didn’t see the potential. This 2 straight DRS might finally answer the question either way.

I think historically many of the best overtakes have been on ‘sitting ducks’ – but that doesn’t take away from them. Mansell on Piquet 1987 – fresh tyres vs. Piquet’s fading tyres – yes we all remember the brilliant dummy but surely without Piquet’s tyres going off Mansell would not have caught him so easily.

Modern aerodynamics seem to be such that ‘real racing’ or side-by-side overtaking is not really going to happen unless stimulated by degrading tyres, DRS, KERS. 2011 is definitely a compromise, but a msjority of fans seem to prefer this over what we’ve had before.

– I like the 2 compound rule – teams have to think very strategically. I like the ‘Chess’ element of F1 this year.

– Another complaint has been the number of pitstops. I wonder if this is partly because the FOM show every single pitstop – perhaps if they didn’t we wouldn’t notice so much.

In laps and out laps are as important as the stop itself but we rarely see those – and often they are where the positions are gained/cemented.


Without benefit of the data, I would say that McLaren and Lewis had two chances to get ahead of Seb.

The first chance was during the 2nd round of stops. The lap after Seb stops, Lewis had 16.6secs in hand. The pitstop delta is about 17secs. If McLaren had been able to do their best stop, they might have been able to put Lewis out, alongside Vettel into T1. Instead, McLaren had Lewis do 4 laps more, where the gap dropped to 11.6secs. By then, there was no chance to get past, obviously.

The 2nd opportunity for McLaren to get Lewis past was in the 3rd round of stops. While Lewis stopped 4 or 5 laps later than Seb in the 2nd round of stops, he stopped only 1 lap later in the 3rd round. In other words, a short stint. Perhaps, this was a used set of softs, or they had lost their grip, but Lewis’ laptimes still looked good. If he could have kept going for a few more laps, then his hard tires would have fewer laps to do, and be quicker, relative to Seb’s. It doesn’t seem like much, but we’ve seen that a tire that is a few laps fresher can make a difference this year between being able to make a pass or not, and seeing how close Lewis was to Seb, it would have been fascinating to watch.


My thoughts exactly! Hamilton managed 4 extra laps on his first set of tyres compared to Vettel without falling behind. That was a maginificent effort and an advantage that should have been made to count.

If McLaren had let him run at least as long as Vettel on his other soft tyre stints then he could have had:

1) at least 4 laps on softs when Vettel was on hards and also

2) hards that were 4 laps newer than Vettel (which should be good for maybe 4/10ths a lap advantage).

I think that would have been enough to give Hamilton the victory.


Obviously, McLaren didn’t seem to believe that they were actually faster than Red Bull. They expected/wanted to cover Alonso more than anything! If they thought they were faster than RB they would definitely have done things differently!


Good point.


I’d wager the team were never concerned with Alonso. During, the 2nd round of stops, Lewis was always 20secs or more ahead of Alonso, before he stopped. That gave him 3 or more secs in hand. Only Seb was lapping faster than Lewis, on new softs, that’s why the gap dropped from 16.6secs to 11.6secs in about 4 laps.

McLaren have a screen showing where a pitstop would theoretically put their driver. If the team were at all concerned with covering Alonso, that was a strategic error and may have cost them the victory. I highly doubt it. If I can see the gap at 20secs or more giving Lewis 3secs in hand, then I’m sure McLaren can see it too.


I thought weaving was forbidden this year. Does what Vettel did at the beginning of the race not count as illegal? Or are the rules on weaving for the purpose of blocking different at the start of the race?

Great race all round.


Basically it’s every man for himself at the start of the race.


An unofficial rule, but apparently it’s impossible to police weaving at the start.


WOW!!! WOW!!! WOW!!! The Spanish grand prix was one full of surprises.

Surprised to see Alonso have such a great start & hold up the faster Red Bulls

Surprised to see Vettel win a hard fought for race

Surprised to see Schumacher finish ahead of Rosberg

And more importantly surprised to see Hamilton push Vettel for all his worth.

I wanna take this opportunity to thank all the brave lads at Woking that have made this possible & turned an slow snail into this monster that is the MP4-26.

Also am really surprised by Mclaren this year in that they’re proving to be the best team when it comes to strategy & quick thinking of the pit wall

Honestly, there’s so much action that goes on during the race that it always shocks me later on to find out who finished where below the top Six.

As for the driver of the day, I will have to go with Brundle & say it was Hammy for if it wasn’t for Hammy’s relentless pursuit, we would have another race with a Bull disappearing off into the sun set.

In my view, the characteristics of the Spanish track saved Vettel for if it was any other track (apart from the usual suspects – Monaco, Hungary etc) Hamilton would have passed Vettel – Easy.

But anyway, fair play to Vettel, he is ticking a lot of boxes of late – Can win even though he didn’t make it first into the first bend, can keep his cool, can overtake (somewhat).

As for Alonso, we saw a glimpse of that old feisty Fernando from 05/06 unfortunately he didn’t have the pace.

Webber must seriously be thinking of retiring now for Vettel is firmly inside his head.

Happy to see Schumi being his old dare devil self at the start, I also enjoyed his defending against Rosberg.

Anyway if this season is anything like the 2009 season, Vettel has another race win in Monaco then from then onwards, the tide will turn.

Have heart people


There’s something magical about seeing the top four cars only separated by 3 or so seconds & more so to see the current best drivers on the grid (Alonso, Vettel & Hamilton) go at it, only separated by a second.


Personally, I felt McLaren made one, possibly two bad strategic calls. The first being not calling Lewis to make his 2nd stop, right after Seb, as his gap was 16.6secs. The second being short-stinting Lewis’ 3rd set of softs, when he might have extended it, and had fresher hards, relative to Seb for the last 2 stints.

Lastly, I think it was pretty remarkable that Lewis and Seb were able to lap the whole field, except for their teammates. I don’t recall that ever happening in the last 20 years where two drivers from different teams were able to lap a field, let alone lap a driver that led the first 10 laps, who didn’t suffer a mechanical issue.

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