Mercedes back on top after Spanish conquest

Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix podium

Lewis Hamilton didn’t just win the Spanish Grand Prix; he dominated it.

In what was an unexpectedly emphatic return to race-winning form, Hamilton’s Mercedes team was unassailable all weekend, locking out the front row of the grid after qualifying and finishing in one-two formation in the race, on both counts for the first time this season.

Hamilton was at his indomitable best from the off. After four rounds of struggle and strategic error, the Briton wasn’t prepared to leave this race to chance. Once the lights went out he sprinted off into the distance so fast that no other driver was ever in contention to rob him of victory.

There was simply no stopping the reigning world champion in Barcelona, and by the time he took the chequered flag even his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, had fallen more than 20 seconds behind.

“Today, the car and myself, I felt that synergy today, which I hadn’t been feeling for the whole year,” he said after the race “I couldn’t have done it without this incredible team.”

Almost forgotten in the tickertape of silver was Ferrari, hitherto the constructors championship leader but utterly anonymous for much of the weekend.

Sebastian Vettel had valiantly qualified third for the race alongside teammate Kimi Raikkonen, but by the end of the grand prix the German had fallen to fourth behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and the Finn had retired with an engine problem.

Compounding the lacklustre weekend was a newfound 27-point deficit to Mercedes in the constructors standings, with Vettel falling to 17 points behind Hamilton on the drivers championship table.

Noteworthy was the sheer weight of Ferrari’s defeat at the hand of Mercedes, with its loss in Spain a major reversal of fortunes after it excelled in the opening leg of the season.

It will cause major consternation for the Scuderia, which has fielded the fastest car at the previous three grands prix, held on a variety of circuits with differing demands.

“In many ways this is a weekend in which nothing went right,” Ferrari principal Maurizio Arrivabene said after the race. “Now calmly and with accuracy we need to analyse the reasons — and they are various — which prevented us from exploiting the potential we demonstrated in the previous races.”

Reliability issues aside, high on the list will be an inquiry into the SF71H’s use of the tyres, which were controversially tweaked by Pirelli ahead of the race to prevent them from overheating on the newly resurfaced circuit.

The control tyre manufacturer made the decision to reduce tread thickness by around 10 per cent after preseason testing, which took place at the same circuit, and after Mercedes reportedly asked it to do something about the levels of blistering it was experiencing.

Pirelli, however, insists it made the change after its own internal decision-making process and after several other teams experienced similar blistering during winter testing.

That the thinner tread will only make two more appearances this season — at the French and British grands prix in June and July — will be cause for optimism at Ferrari, but the tyre tweaks are unlikely to account for all the form swing, with Barcelona featuring sweeping performance updates to both Ferrari and Mercedes cars.

“Bottom line is we’re not quick enough to win,” Vettel conceded. “That’s what we have to address, not [whether] we have a disadvantage here.

“In the end we weren’t quick enough and our tyres didn’t last as long as others.”

The ball is in Ferrari’s court to hit back against Mercedes’s resurgence at the Monaco Grand Prix (27 May), but don’t expect the grumblings in Barcelona to be the last we’ll hear about tyres this season.

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