Hamilton holds off Vettel to win classic Spanish Grand Prix
Title contenders go wheel-to-wheel in Barcelona as F1 serves up a 'mighty appetiser' that promises high drama for the rest of the season
Lewis Hamilton fought off Sebastian Vettel on Sunday to win a classic Spanish Grand Prix in spectacular fashion, leaving F1 fans licking their lips at the prospect of a titanic battle between Mercedes and Ferrari this year.
In the first European Grand Prix of the campaign, Hamilton and Vettel served up "a mighty appetiser for the rest of the season", says Giles Richards in The Guardian.
Hamilton began on pole position but lost his lead to Vettel on the first lap. That meant Mercedes had to produce a tactical and technical masterclass to get Hamilton back into the lead.
They managed it, but not before a moment of high drama when Vettel emerged from the pits in lap 37 neck and neck with Hamilton, and the pair went wheel-to-wheel round turn one.
Vettel emerged in front but he could not sustain the lead. Hamilton passed him in lap 44 and held on to take the chequered flag.
It was a race of huge intensity that "offered a spectacle of drama and daring not seen on this scale for some time", says Jonathan McEvoy of the Daily Mail.
"Formula One boring? Not when it is conducted like this right at the front of the field, when each of the two participants refused to yield to anything but precise calculation of space and possibility."
The two drivers "were in a different class from the rest of the field", says Richards of the Guardian. "Hamilton's and Vettel's two-horse race here almost certainly reflects what is now their battle for the world championship."
The pair were 75 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in third place, which indicates the gulf between the two top teams and the rest of the field. Indeed, Red Bull's podium only occurred because Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari failed to finish.
But Bottas did have an impact on the race, slowing Vettel down as he tried to pass the Finn, allowing Hamilton to make up time on the Ferrari.
That and "a perfectly timed pitstop", helped Hamilton triumph, says Rebecca Clancy of The Times. "So often in Formula 1 it can come down to the driver's ability or a single strategy call, but in Barcelona yesterday the victory was a combination of everything coming together at the right time."
Andrew Benson of the BBC agrees. "Good as Hamilton's drive was – undoubtedly one of his very best – he could not have done it without a superb collective effort from Mercedes team, from head of strategy James Vowles and Hamilton's engineer Peter Bonnington on the pit wall to his team-mate Valtteri Bottas."
The win leaves Hamilton six points behind Vettel in the drivers' championship and promises much for the season ahead.
The pair were full of respect for each other after the race despite a couple of close calls during it. "But this is turning into a titanic scrap between two of the greatest drivers of their generation and it is not hard to imagine that the spiciness is going to go up a few notches as the season goes on," says Benson.