Daniel Ricciardo claimed his first podium of the season as Lewis Hamilton won a strategic Spanish Grand Prix to cut Sebastian Vettel’s overall lead in the Formula One driver’s championship.
Mercedes driver Hamilton’s 55th career win was hard-fought and tense, with Ferrari’s Vettel seizing the lead from Hamilton at the start and in the hunt all the way as the tyre strategies played out.
Hamilton took the chequered flag 3.4 seconds clear of the German, who did all he could to beat him with a thrilling move to pass the Briton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas that will be replayed for some time to come.
Vettel now has 104 points to Hamilton’s 98 with a quarter of the season completed.
“That’s how racing should be and I loved it,” said a happy Hamilton, who raced side by side with Vettel at turn one after the German’s final pit stop.
“This is what the sport needs to be every single race…to have that close battle with him, a four times champion, is awesome.”
Ricciardo was the only driver not lapped by the top two after inheriting third from Bottas after the Finn’s engine expired.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen went out at the start after a collision with Red Bull’s 2016 winner Max Verstappen.
“Relief, and happiness,” Ricciardo said of his feelings on finally making a top-three finish.
“We got, I guess a bit lucky, not sure what the problem was with Valtteri. Looked like he just stopped on the side of the track, I guess something with engine failure or whatever but yeah, it’s nice to be up here nonetheless,” said the Australian, who was driving a dramatically upgraded Red Bull car in Spain.
After overtaking Vettel after the German’s final pit stop, Hamilton made his tyres last to the finish.
The Mercedes driver had sounded strangely breathless during the race when fretting about a strategy that turned out to be spot on.
“Lewis saved the race with an incredible drive. The strategy was great, but it was the driver who won it,” said Mercedes F1’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
The win was Hamilton’s second in Barcelona and ended a run of 10 different winners in 10 years.
“I was eight seconds ahead and then…I don’t know how we managed to lose that,” said Vettel, who made the most of Hamilton’s poor start.
On an afternoon that saw the two multiple world champions in a battle of their own with the rest so far behind they might as well have been in another race, Daniel Ricciardo finished 75.8 seconds behind the winner.
Bottas, who celebrated his first career victory in Russia two weeks ago, made glancing contact with his compatriot and the impact pitched Raikkonen into Verstappen on the other side, smashing the suspension on both cars.
The 19-year-old Dutch driver, with a legion of fans around the Circuit de Catalunya, shook his fist as the field disappeared in front of him and Raikkonen stopped.
Stewards investigated the incident and decided to take no further action.
Bottas retired 38 laps later, having started with an engine that had already done four races and was hurriedly shoe-horned into the car overnight on Friday after a water leak was discovered.
– With AAP