BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton roared back to the top of the Formula One world championship on Sunday with victory in Spain as Mercedes continued their record start to a season with a fifth successive one-two.
The 76th victory of the five times world champion’s career, and third of the season, sent the Briton seven points clear of Finnish team-mate Valtteri Bottas after five of the 21 races.
Hamilton took an extra point for the fastest lap of the race, his first of the campaign, and was helped by a safety car deployment 20 laps from the end giving him a free second pitstop.
Max Verstappen finished third for Honda-powered Red Bull with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, at a loss to rein in Mercedes, crossing the line fourth and fifth respectively.
“This is history in the making to have five one-twos,” Hamilton said about his team’s record start to 2019. “I’m very proud to be a part of that and proud of everyone’s hard work.”
As opposed to his win here in 2017 and 2018 from pole position, Hamilton had to overtake pole-sitter Bottas. Once in front he cruised through the race’s 66 laps of the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit without a challenge.
Hamilton got the jump on Bottas off the line when Vettel leapt forward and made it three abreast going through the first corner. Vettel locked up on the turn, and Bottas, sandwiched in the middle, had to blink to avoid a possible collision as Hamilton sped clear.
“It was pretty tight but I lost it at the start, there was some strange behaviour on the clutch -- it was like biting, releasing, biting, releasing and I’ve not felt that before,” said Bottas.
“As a team it’s incredible, the fifth one-two in a row is really good. I got some good points, every single point is going to count this year, so that’s good for sure but I’m just keen to find out why the start was so bad.”
Verstappen took advantage of the joisting to slip by Vettel and into third, a result that moved the Belgian into a distant third place in the standings. Verstappen is 46 points adrift of Hamilton. Vettel fell to fourth at 48 points back.
Ferrari was faster on this same track during two weeks of preseason testing this winter and had hoped to make up the gap by bringing in a new engine for the race.
But Mercedes was unfazed and stormed to yet another win to further demoralize its rivals.
While the Mercedes pair and Verstappen zoomed away, the Ferraris joisted with each other and watched their chances to even salvage a podium spot fade away.
Leclerc overtook the slower Vettel, then Vettel hunted Leclerc down and they both lost time while Leclerc defended his spot until Ferrari finally ordered him to let Vettel past.
Pierre Gasly was a solid sixth in the second Red Bull ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas, home hero Carlos Sainz of McLaren, Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean in the second Haas.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019