On a weekend when he claimed his 100th pole position, Britain’s Sir Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 championship with victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.
In a career that’s rapidly running out of suitable adjectives, Hamilton again delivered a stand-out race for Mercedes.
Title rival Verstappen, now 14 points behind after four rounds, managed to get the jump on him at the first corner, with an aggressive late brake diving up the inside. The move forced Hamilton to back off and assume second position and, on a track where so much of F1’s testing is done, it looked like a dull race might ensue.
How wrong we were. Verstappen led through the first round of stops, but then Mercedes pulled a tactical blinder and brought Hamilton in for a second set of tyres. With rubber that was a few laps fresher, and the Briton’s incredible race craft, Hamilton set about reeling in the Red Bull driver. The gap was 23sec with 18 laps remaining – a huge margin in F1 terms.
The fact that Hamilton passed Verstappen for the lead with six laps remaining demonstrates how the team and driver seem to be operating on a different plane at the moment. It was a masterclass in confidence – a radio message from Bono (Pete Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer) was calm and simple: “22 seconds, we’ve done it before.” Simple, no-fuss stuff.
Once Hamilton swept past under DRS into turn one, the race was over. Verstappen pitted for a fresh tyres and to get the fastest lap bonus point and second place, but it was scant reward for the Dutchman.
Monaco is next and is an outlier in terms of the formbook, but it would be a brave person to bet against Mercedes and Hamilton.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has expanded its data offering for F1 viewers this season, and it was interesting to see it ‘call’ various scenarios during the race. After Verstappen pitted early for his first stop, it said Mercedes needed to respond immediately.
The graphic showed the likelihood of where Hamilton would emerge if he came in for fresh tyres, and the odds slipped the longer that Mercedes left him out.
It was interesting stuff to look at, giving viewers a read of how the tactics were playing out – especially so at somewhere like the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, where the strategies are key.
To be fair to AWS, it called the first stops correctly. By the time Hamilton pitted, he emerged behind Verstappen, just as AWS said he would.
But it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Mercedes and its tactics guru Andrew Shovlin are thinking slightly ahead of what the viewers are seeing. They called the second stop perfectly, Hamilton delivered and we all got to watch a maestro in action.