Hamilton's Herculean effort keeps Vettel at bay
Lewis Hamilton used his last vestiges of energy when he leapt out of his Mercedes and into the arms of his euphoric mechanics. It was the 55th victory of a magnificent career, but few have required a physical effort as Herculean as this.
The Circuit de Catalunya is notoriously demanding of drivers' bodies, with its abrasive surface and high-speed corners, and Hamilton looked a husk in the wake of 66 laps of compelling duelling with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
On the scales, he saw that he had lost two kilos in weight. Hamilton had decided against carrying drinks in his car, to save on overall load, and even the jeroboam of champagne that he sprayed all over the podium here could barely have replaced the amount of fluid lost.
But when he allows himself a look at the championship standings, with his deficit to Vettel cut to six points at the top, he can reflect that it was worth every drop.
In a race of see-sawing fortunes as the two outstanding drivers of their generation skirmished, Hamilton prevailed thanks both to his cussedness and the tactical astuteness of Mercedes' engineers.
He had lost the advantage of pole position by the first corner as Vettel dived down the inside, but an ingenious rethink by the Silver Arrows allowed him to attack his rival in the final stages on faster soft tyres.
The plan worked to perfection as he swept past the German on lap 44 with a beautifully timed overtake, laying the platform for one of his finest and most satisfying wins.
Hamilton lives for battles of this intensity. Having tired of the quarrelsome relationship with Nico Rosberg, his former team-mate, he relishes a straight, honest head-to-head with an opponent he likes and admires.
"To stay on Seb was a killer," he said. "He was so fast up ahead, it was such a push to keep up. It is the rawest fight I can remember having for some time, which I loved.
"This is how the sport needs to be every single race - it is what got me into racing from the beginning. To be able to have this battle with a four-time champion is awesome."
Barely the width of a sheet of sugar paper can separate Hamilton and Vettel on this evidence.
It is testament to their pre-eminence - and to the skill of their teams in the technological arms race - that, even though both cars arrived in Barcelona with upgrades galore, they have never been closer on the track.
A mere 51 hundredths of a second apart in qualifying, they jousted with the same ferocity throughout the race, raising the prospect of a tussle that could extend unabated until the season's climax in Abu Dhabi.
All was peace and love in the aftermath as the pair exchanged plaudits.
Where he developed a dynamic with Rosberg that was at best testy, at worst downright hostile, Hamilton (above) describes the challenge of outsmarting Vettel as a "privilege".
Given that Vettel holds four world titles to his three, it is not as if he can claim superiority, but the warmth between them away from the asphalt appears genuine. © Daily Telegraph