Hamilton cruises to victory in Spanish GP; Vettel finishes 4th

Phil Duncan

Mercedes got off to a good start in Formula One's return to Europe, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton setting the pace in practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday. At the time of writing it was not yet clear what caused the problem and whether the components are salvageable, but after reliability issues cost Vettel a shot at the championship previous year, Ferrari will be concerned by the problems.

Hamilton now leads in the championship by 17 points over Vettel, with the team 27 points over its Italian rivals in the constructors' championship. And it contained some concerning signs for Ferrari. Vettel won in Australia and Bahrain, while Ricciardo was first in China and Hamilton triumphed in Azerbaijan.

After dominating in the season opener at Melbourne but failing to win after Vettel took advantage of a late virtual safety vehicle, Mercedes admitted a software error had caused the miscalculation that had cost Hamilton.

How did Mercedes turn it around?

However, it was clear that this one meant more to him than many poles he had won in in the past. Hamilton, for one, was cautious after the race. We could just as easily go to the next race and struggle getting our tires working and be nowhere.

The safety auto has helped add to the drama of the early part of the 2018 season and its appearance early in Sunday's race means it has been used in the opening five races of a championship for the first time.

Nevertheless, Hamilton definitely made a decisive personal step forward in Spain.

For the first time this season, he felt truly at one with the vehicle.

The Frenchman then collected the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly's Toro Rosso in a major smash, fortunately without injury, that brought out the safety vehicle for the first six laps.

On his way to claiming pole Hamilton set a new track record at the recently resurfaced Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

"It obviously looks wrong, but from the inside it was the right thing to do", he said. "I am going to sleep like a baby tonight because I know I did my job this weekend to the maximum and I didn't leave anything on the table so there is no better feeling".

"I couldn't have done it without this incredibly team", Hamilton said post-race.

"I've been racing a long time so to still have that feeling when you do have that win, and that happiness and that uplift inside (is special)", he said. "It's just very surreal to think that every now and then I keep coming up against Michael in terms of records".

While Hamilton reported drizzle on his visor on lap 21, Bottas' pace surged, over 1.2 seconds faster than Vettel. However it came about. "I believe it is about having a auto that does what you want, drives like you expect it to drive", he said. The German had seized the initiative off the line with a nice move around the outside of Bottas and stayed ahead until pitting on the 18th lap, which was earlier than anticipated.

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