Sunday 20 August 2017

F1: Vettel 'relieved' to hold off Hamilton

David Tremayne at the Circuit de Catalunya

In the end, there was nothing like the amount of overtaking that had been predicted around a circuit on which it has rarely been possible, but in the end it barely mattered as Sebastian Vettel found himself hounded all the way to the flag by a heroic Lewis Hamilton.

After 190 miles, just six-tenths of a second separated them as the reigning champion scored his fourth victory in five races this season for Red Bull.

Nobody doubts that the Red Bull is the best car in the field, and good though it is, Hamilton's McLaren did not truly deserve to be so close.

"I just couldn't ever get close enough, and never had an opportunity to overtake," Hamilton admitted, even with a KERS system that worked better than Vettel's which developed an intermittent problem, or the DRS rear wing which cuts drag for the following car and, on some circuits, facilitates passing moves. But not here, for some reason.

"I was quite impressed with the job we were able to do considering that their car is quite a bit faster than ours," Hamilton continued. "Our race pace really has improved since the last race, but he (Vettel) was incredible, massively quick."

The partisan crowd cheered itself hoarse at the start when local hero Fernando Alonso burst through from fourth place on the grid to jump alongside Vettel (pictured right) and then dive down the inside of his pole-sitting team-mate Mark Webber going into the first corner. It was the prelude to a disappointing afternoon for the Australian.

Alonso kept the lead through his first of four pit stops on the 10th lap and again on the 19th, but thereafter the race was between Vettel and Hamilton, who also made four pit stops each. As they raced ahead, Alonso kept an increasingly frustrated Webber at bay, and Jenson Button worked his way back from a terrible start that dropped him initially from fifth on the grid to 10th at the end of the opening lap.

Alonso was third when he pitted for the third time on the 29th lap, and again he held off Webber, but the Spaniard soon blistered a set of hard-compound Pirelli tyres and gradually dropped away as he had to make his final set last from the 39th lap to the end. He finished a lapped fifth.

Vettel and Hamilton, meanwhile, traded blows until the finish, pushing each other all the way. The gap between them fluctuated from as much as 2.4 seconds on the 51st to 0.5 on the 58th, and every time that Hamilton dropped back he could close in again. But he just couldn't overtake. Vettel worked the traffic well and maintained his small but crucial advantage after a super-cool drive.

"Lewis was very strong and I knew it would be very, very close," he said. "He was sitting for some time on the rev limiter all down the straight, always there when I looked in the mirrors, and it was hard to know whether to defend or not. Over the last few laps I just got enough to make it stick. Sometimes my KERS was on, sometimes not, so I was playing with the button. It was quite a relief when you cross the line and there's the chequered flag. We made it!"

"I caught up three times," Hamilton said, "but our raw speed was not fast enough. But I'm thoroughly happy with the job we did; considering the circumstances, it was quite an achievement."

So he was a valiant second, and McLaren picked up the third podium place too after Button switched to a three-stop strategy after his dreadful start and later made the most of his final set of soft-compound tyres to jump Alonso and Webber.

"The start was an absolute disaster!" he admitted. "But we used a fantastic strategy and I was able to get on the podium. It was great fun to pass Mark and Fernando within the same lap, especially as they had been fighting for 40 laps, and a strategy that wasn't right three weeks ago was perfect here. I really felt like I raced today and I'm happy with the result, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if I'd made a good start."

After the race the stewards investigated Hamilton, Button and Webber for possible yellow flag infringements, but no penalties were applied. (© Independent News Service)

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