Schumacher good, Vettel less: Hamilton’s tactics wrest the victory from Verstappen

Schumacher good, Vettel less
Hamilton’s tactics snatch victory from Verstappen

In the fight for the Formula 1 World Championship, Max Verstappen wins the duel in the first meters of the Spanish Grand Prix. But Lewis Hamilton hits back ice cold by racing strategy. Sebastian Vettel clearly misses the points again, while Mick Schumacher does his duty confidently.

Lewis Hamilton fended off the next attack by Max Verstappen with a tactical masterpiece and great driving skills. The seven-time Formula 1 champion was not impressed by a successful attack by the Dutchman right in the first corner and countered with a splendid race to catch up after a second pit stop at the Spanish Grand Prix.

“I feel great,” said Hamilton, “it was a real game of poker in the end. The strategy paid off, it was a great performance from the whole team.” Verstappen had “seen the Englishman’s late overtaking maneuver coming. Lewis had significantly more speed than we did with the new tires,” said the Dutchman: “I could no longer hold the position.”

After his 100th pole, Hamilton achieved his 98th Grand Prix victory and the fifth success in a row on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas came third in the second Mercedes. Verstappen was only second in the tire game, with six laps to go, Hamilton overtook the 23-year-old in his 100th race for Red Bull. The triumph at the site of his first Formula 1 victory five years ago as the youngest driver in the motorsport premier class came to nothing. In the classification, Hamilton’s lead over the classic grew to 14 points in two weeks in Monaco.

In the slipstream of the world championship fight, Sebastian Vettel experienced another race under the claims of a four-time world champion – or in short: to forget. 13th place and thus again not in the points. Mick Schumacher, on the other hand, was mindful of his only fourth Formula 1 race. More than 18th place in the lame Haas was not possible for the 21-year-old Formula 2 champion from last year after he had been lapped after a little more than halfway.

Schumacher with a strong start

Because the two World Cup opponents up front put a lot of pressure on right from the start. Verstappen knew it like Hamilton: At the start, a preliminary decision could be made as to who will cross the finish line after 66 laps on a difficult to overtake course. Hamilton had secured pole position, believe it or not, 100th in his career. Verstappen was second on the grid on the dirtier inside, but got away well, slid just behind Hamilton, swerved and attacked the Spain winner of the past four years in the first corner. And it got close. Verstappen risked contact, and Hamilton backed away. The challenger was now leading the field, the defending champion was in pursuit.

The two Germans came further back. Vettel had not made it past 13th place in the qualification. The four-time world champion, who is now also in a crisis at Aston Martin, was initially unable to make up ground. In contrast to Mick Schumacher, who first improved by two places and temporarily moved up to 16th place with his inferior Haas racing car.

Verstappen could not pull away, any lead would have been gone when the Alpha Tauri of the Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda stopped and the safety car had to be taken out. Verstappen also mastered the always tricky moment when the drivers are allowed to accelerate again with ease. Hamilton couldn’t answer. What to do now

Mercedes’ tactics are paying off

Course at the gates of Barcelona has long enjoyed the reputation of a processional route. Even with the aids of the current racing cars, overtaking is hardly possible. The fact that the winner started from the front row 27 times out of 30 races strengthens the reputation of the track. So it would probably just be about strategy. The softest tire compound deteriorated, Hamilton now put Verstappen under pressure, reduced the gap to less than a second when Verstappen drove in to change tires.

And then that: 4.2 seconds. It is not uncommon for the Red Bull crew to change four wheels in less than two seconds. The Mercedes command post and Hamilton knew that this could be the decisive phase of the race. The fact that Mick Schumacher’s team-mate Nikita Mazepin once again attracted negative attention and Hamilton with blue flags – signs to let a competitor overtake – even prompted team boss Toto Wolff to announce to the race management.

For Sebastian Vettel things are still mixed.

(Photo: imago images / Motorsport Images)

Even a 2.7-second tire change did not have the desired effect from Mercedes’ point of view. Hamilton stayed behind Verstappen, but shortened the gap. A mistake by Verstappen and the 36-year-old Brit would be back in front. The Red Bull hopefuls made no mistake, but complained about the tires. When Hamilton was almost there, the Briton turned towards the box. Back on the track, he called up top times like a robot in his black painted Silver Arrow.

Red Bull dared and left Verstappen outside: one-stop strategy. Around 21 seconds ahead with a good 20 laps. The Hamilton hunt was on. Once again, the premier class record driver drove in a league of its own. Sometimes he made up two seconds in a lap. “I’ll run out of tires at the end of the race,” he radioed in view of the aggressive strategy. It would be even less at Verstappen, came the reply from the command post. In the 60th lap, the Dutchman had to let Hamilton pass, the decision had been made, in order to get at least one additional point, he had the soft tires put on again.