Hamilton resists hard-charging Rosberg to take lead in Mercedes procession
No driver has won four consecutive races in a season and not been crowned world champion at the end of the year.
Lewis Hamilton ticked off the first task in an extraordinary, nail-biting finish to the Spanish Grand Prix, but, as the margin of victory over his team-mate Nico Rosberg showed, he will be made to fight all the way to keep the championship lead he captured for the first time in nearly two years.
Psychologically, this was another bruising day for Rosberg, who despite all his efforts in the final 10 laps, came up less than a second short. After Hamilton's dominant drive three weeks ago in China, a locked tyre here and there, or a back-marker at an inopportune moment were the fractions that separated these two here.
Once out of the car, Hamilton was calm, almost speechless at the dominance of his Mercedes car. In it, he has never sounded as nervous as he was with Rosberg eating into his lead after the final pit-stops.
His agitation over the team radio had been steadily building throughout the race. But it rose to something akin to trauma as his long-time German friend and rival moved within striking distance with just a handful of kilometres to go. With Mercedes out of sight – after their fourth one-two finish in a row, their advantage in the constructors' championship is an astonishing 113 points – all the omens are there for Hamilton. He is winning in places where he has never stood on the top step of the podium before, and on occasions when he claims to have been the slower driver.
"Nico was quicker this weekend, but fortunately I was able to keep him behind," he said after the race. "I struggled to keep him behind and was grateful I was able to. I have to find out where I am losing the time and apply it to the next race. By no means is it easy for me, I still have a massive challenge from Nico. But I could never imagine these four race wins. It is still so close, there is a long, long way to go and I have a bit more time to find in this car."
Mind games or simple honesty? It must be galling for Rosberg to hear, but, either way, he needs to start converting promising pace into decisive triumphs. The pair remain cordial and deferential, taking every opportunity to congratulate one another. "We have been through this before – it's not the first time," Rosberg said of their relationship, which dates back to their karting days. But if the racing continues to be this intense, it will come under enormous strain.
Elsewhere, in Formula One's other race at the Circuit de Catalunya, so insurmountable was Mercedes' lead, Daniel Ricciardo finally secured the podium he had so cruelly taken away from him in Melbourne. Valtteri Bottas also impressed to finish fifth, while Romain Grosjean won Lotus's first points of the year in eighth.
For McLaren, the beneficiaries of Ricciardo's disqualification in Australia, it seems their double podium at the opening race was an irregularity. Both cars were again out of the points. Jenson Button had to settle for 11th.
For much of the afternoon the pulse of the spectators must have been as if they were emerging from a siesta. In the closing stages, however, the pace quickened in a thrilling climax.
Before then, Hamilton and Rosberg led comfortably from the front row and it was not long before they were two silver specs in the distance.
As the Mercedes scampered away, building a gap of nearly 20 seconds by lap 12, Ricciardo hustled Bottas after losing out at the start. He was so much faster through the high-speed corners, but continually fell back on the straights. If only the Red Bull had a competitive engine, then we might have a contest on our hands. Once the first round of stops was over, the Australian had the third place he deserved.
The home crowd had been warned by Fernando Alonso prior to the weekend to keep expectations low. Unfortunately for the Catalans, he was right. Tucked up behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for almost the entire race, finally, on lap 64, he made his move. Although he won the inter-team battle, it was yet another depressing afternoon, as he came home sixth. Ferrari's inquest will continue.
Sebastian Vettel, starting 15th, was making much more progress. The German's ability to overtake has been the subject of immense discussion over the last five years, but he showed once again that these doubts are unwarranted, as he scythed through to end up a respectable fourth.
At the front, Rosberg was not letting Hamilton cruise away. Through both rounds of pit-stops the gap was never more than five seconds. The leader was a worried man. He complained to his engineer: "Can you give me a hand? I've got too much oversteer."
With 20 laps to go, Rosberg had a gap of 4.8 seconds and a determined Hamilton to overcome. With six laps remaining, the German was within DRS range and preparing to mount a decisive charge. By the final lap, Rosberg could almost reach out and touch the lead. But Hamilton, ducking out to lap Kimi Raikkonen just before the first turn, held on. He won by 0.6sec. (© Daily Telegraph, London)