Thursday 29 September 2016

Hamilton fights back to limit his losses to Rosberg

David Tremayne

Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg sprays champagne on the podium after the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix yesterday at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona (Getty Images)
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg sprays champagne on the podium after the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix yesterday at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona (Getty Images)
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg celebrates on the podium after the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo on the outskirts of Barcelona (Getty Images)

Mercedes’ one-two in yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix was a crushing blow for a Ferrari team that had gone to Barcelona believing they could take the fight to the Silver Arrows.

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It was also a story of rehabilitation for the dominant Nico Rosberg, who never looked like losing, and damage limitation for Lewis Hamilton, who spent the afternoon fighting back from a bad start.

“Obviously, I had quite a poor one,” the world champion said after his slow getaway from the front row saw him fall behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. “In fact, it’s a long time since I had such a bad one, and I was nearly back to fourth place behind (Valtteri) Bottas. After that, I tried my best to recover.”

As Rosberg simply ran whatever race he wanted to, untroubled by Vettel, whose fast-starting Ferrari ultimately proved a major disappointment, Hamilton tried all he could to reclaim second place from the German, including stopping sooner for fresh tyres.

But a three-second delay in his first pit call frustrated that plan, so his team switched to Plan B, a three-stop strategy rather than the two-stoppers Rosberg and Vettel were running.

When Hamilton pitted for a set of hard-compound tyres on the 32nd lap, Ferrari did not cover him as they had done earlier, keeping to their strategy.

By the time Vettel pitted again on the 40th lap, Hamilton had done enough to recapture second place.

As Rosberg pitted for the final time on lap 45, Hamilton actually enjoyed a spell in the lead, but he still had to open sufficient advantage over Vettel to facilitate his final stop, and he had so by the 51st lap.

Window

As the Mercedes team put it, “We’ve pushed Vettel out of the pit-stop window.”

Second place now safe, Hamilton used his new set of boots to launch an attack on Rosberg, who was more than 20 seconds ahead, but though initially he closed in by a second a lap it was not enough, and the team advised him to ease back and make sure of another one-two. That result delivered a brutal message to Ferrari that they will have to up their game significantly if they hope to challenge for the constructors’ title.

Hamilton was critical of the Circuit de Catalunya, which usually generates a largely dull race with virtually no overtaking at the front.

“Unfortunately this is the worst track for overtaking and it’s impossible to follow someone close enough here, which is a shame,” he said.

“For guys at the front, no matter what you do you can’t get close enough.

“I thought I did enough to pass Seb (Vettel) in my first stint, but then I had a very long pit stop and had to do it all again, but a three-stopper was enough to get by Seb and to stay there. That was good, because I wouldn’t have done it on the track.

“I pushed very hard at the end to see if it was possible to catch Nico, but it was a huge gap and I wasn’t really catching enough, so after a while it was clear that the thing to do was just to bring the car home. My set-up wasn’t good in qualifying but it wasn’t bad this afternoon, but today was a tough race: damage limitation.”

Setbacks

Vettel put on the brave face he reserves for setbacks, and this definitely was one for Ferrari, with the German third and Kimi Raikkonen unable to dislodge Bottas’s Williams from fourth.

“As a racing driver you can always complain about something, especially if you’re a German,” Vettel joked, “but to be honest I thought it would be tricky to keep Lewis behind as Mercedes were a fair amount quicker.

“But we got lucky when he had a problem in his first pit stop, then they reacted well and I have to say they deserved to finish ahead of us today. They had more pace than we did.

“But I’m pretty confident we will get close enough soon.”

This was a psychologically critical victory for Rosberg, and he savoured every moment of it.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend,” he said. “Everything worked out and came together, so I’m very happy.

“I made up seven points on Lewis and for a time when he was behind Seb I thought that might be 10; while that might not be so good for the team, it would have been for me, because that’s the way it goes.

“As it was, it was a great team result after the two-week break; everybody brought big upgrades here and still we’re dominating.”

Rosberg said he hadn’t changed his personal approach since Bahrain, just that everything came good.

“Was it a perfect weekend? Yeah, it was. The car was great, I nailed the set-up for qualifying and for the race, so I’m very happy.”

Further down the order, fans’ favourite Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean both suffered separate overshoots during their pit stops at McLaren and Lotus respectively, fortunately without injury to their pit crews. (© Independent News Service)

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