Lewis Hamilton defeated Max Verstappen in a thrilling duel to gain the Spanish Grand Prix and increase his championship lead over his top rival on Sunday.
Verstappen’s Red Bull edged the pole-sitting Hamilton to the first curve to snatch the early lead.
But Mercedes’ use of two pit stops to give Hamilton fresher tires down the final stretch paid off and allowed him to overtake the Dutchman with six laps left.
“Red Bull got a great start,” Hamilton said. “I was hunting …. It was a long way to come back from, 20-odd seconds back. But it was a good gamble.”
Hamilton followed his 100th career pole on Saturday by taking his 98th career victory. He also tied Michael Schumacher’s mark of six victories at the Spanish Grand Prix, including the last five in a row.
Hamilton increased his lead to 14 points over Verstappen, who grabbed a bonus point for the fastest lap.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas steered his Mercedes to a third-place finish.
Verstappen got the jump on Hamilton off the starting line, recovering the scarce meters that separated them on the grid down the first straight. They entered the first curve side-by-side and appeared to graze one another before Hamilton backed off, as Verstappen pulled away.
The superior tire strategy kicked in on lap 25 when Verstappen came in to swap his soft tires for the more durable mediums. Hamilton stayed out to take the lead for three laps before he ceded it back to Verstappen when he had to change his tires to mediums as well.
Even though Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff stated before the race that he expected to make one pit stop, seeing Verstappen holding his lead must have changed his mind. Hamilton came in for a second time on lap 43 for a new set of tires.
When Hamilton got back on the track he asked his team “how far have I got to catch up?”
He was told: “Twenty-two seconds We’ve done it before.”
Verstappen saw Hamilton eating into this lead and told his team “I don’t see how we are going to make it to the end.”
He was right. Verstappen was unable to put up a fight when Hamilton caught and overtook him on the outside of a turn.
“Great job with the strategy,” Hamilton told the team over the radio upon crossing the finish line.
Meanwhile, Verstappen told his team: “It is what it is. It is impossible to keep him behind.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished fourth, followed by Sergio Pérez in the other Red Bull.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth for McLaren. Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari was seventh, followed by McLaren’s Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon in an Alpine and Pierre Gasly for Alpha Tauri rounding out the top ten.
Health restrictions have limited spectators for Sunday’s race to one thousand locals who are members of the circuit. In 2019, 90,000 fans attended.
“There are a thousand here, but we know there are hundreds of thousands watching from home and we hope we can have them back soon,” said Spaniard Fernando Alonso after saluting the smattering of spectators in his tribute. Alonso finished a disappointing 17th in his Alpine.