If you wanted to know how close Ferrari are to Mercedes then the Spanish Grand Prix confirmed what is becoming clearly evident. There is little difference in terms of performance between these two warring factions. The 2017 season will be determined not by out right speed but which driver has the better setup on the day or which team makes the better strategic call. Driver consistency will also play its part. The Spanish Grand Prix had all those elements but Lewis Hamilton had to battle his way into the lead after relinquishing it to Vettel at the start.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes are leagues ahead of every other team, qualifying belonged to Hamilton but only just, pole position was settled by who was more composed on the day. But as often is the case Sunday is where all the hard work really counts and Sunday belonged to Hamilton and Vettel.
This was a strategic and tense race between the best two drivers on the grid with the best cars in the palm of their hands. Hamilton made a OK start as the red lights went out but Vettel made a better start and out dragged Hamilton into the first corner. Raikkonen didn’t fare well being caught up a crash unintentionally initiated by Bottas.
At the front Vettel looked to have the better race pace and was building a comfortable gap between himself and Hamilton a sign the race was going in Ferrari’s direction. Vettel made his first pit stop on lap 15 which elevated Hamilton into the lead until the latter pitted on lap 21.
Mercedes decided to keep Bottas a little longer out and used him as a strategic ploy to slow Vettel’s pace in a bid to reduce the gap to Hamilton. But Vettel muscled his way past Bottas with a double bluff overtake into turn 1 on lap 25. Job done for Ferrari, the race win was in the bag.
Or so it seemed, Hamilton pitted for soft tyres on lap 37 under a virtual safety car and Ferrari followed suit the next lap. As Vettel exited the pits he found Hamilton had closed the gap and the two went wheel to wheel into turn 1 for a second time.
Hamilton was muscled out of the way and Vettel narrowly kept the advantage, but Hamilton wasn’t done. On a softer tyre compound Hamilton had and short term advantage but he needed to overtake Vettel before his tyres ran out of grip. He did so on lap 44.
Hamilton changed his angle of approach on the last corner to enable him to slingshot out of the apex giving him more speed onto the main straight. Now with the DRS deployed Hamilton caught and, in the end, drew past Vettel quite easily. For Vettel resistance was futile.
The advantage was now Hamilton’s who kept the race under control until the chequered flag was waved on lap 66. Vettel had no speed advantage to challenge Hamilton and in the last few laps backed off giving Hamilton his second win of the season and reducing the gap in the Drivers Championship to 6 points as F1 departs Spain for Monaco in two weeks time.