MONTMELO – Nico Rosberg has finally ended his losing streak at the start of the 2015 Formula 1 season by winning the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday.
The German driver secured his first pole position of the season in qualifying on Saturday, and produced a fine display to control the race and go unchallenged en route to his first win since last November’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
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His main rival, Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, saw his hopes of winning the race disappear at the start when he dropped behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and although he was able to finish second on a three-stop strategy, the Briton finished some 17.5 seconds behind race-winner Rosberg.
Vettel was unable to match Mercedes’ pace on the hard compound tire, but made the best of the situation to finish third for Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas Kimi Raikkonen
The start saw Rosberg hold on to his lead from pole position after making a clean getaway, but the same could not be said of Hamilton in the sister Mercedes car. The Briton dropped down to third place at turn one behind Vettel, and was fortunate not to also lose out to Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen made a good start to jump the Toro Rosso drivers, and was followed through into the top six by Felipe Massa. Further back, McLaren saw its drivers move in opposite directions as Fernando Alonso gained two places whilst Jenson Button fell back to P18, ahead of only the Manor drivers.
With Hamilton stuck behind Vettel, Rosberg looked to push on at the head of the field and open up a lead over the chasing pack. He quickly moved out of DRS range, and began to consistently lap half a second quicker than his teammate. Hamilton swiftly radioed his team, saying that it was “impossible to get close” as running in Vettel’s dirty air was losing him grip. He knew that if he didn’t pass the German quickly, his chances of winning the race would be slim.
Well aware of Hamilton’s struggles, Mercedes reacted by telling him he was being switched to ‘plan B’ – a three-stop strategy. The Briton pushed to latch onto the back of Vettel, but was brought into the pits on lap 13 for a fresh set of medium tires.
It did not go to plan for Mercedes, though, as a problem with the left-rear tire cost Hamilton more time, meaning that he emerged from the pits back in P7. Ferrari reacted to Hamilton’s stop by bringing Vettel in just one lap later, and a smooth tire change allowed him to emerge on the track ahead of the defending world champion. Rosberg was brought in by Mercedes one lap after Vettel, allowing him to come back out in second place before re-taking the lead when Kimi Raikkonen pitted.
Hamilton found himself getting closer and closer to Vettel, but maintained to the team that passing the Ferrari driver on track was “pretty much impossible”. The traction of the Ferrari allowed Vettel to pull away coming out of the final chicane, leaving the Briton to struggle to get close enough when using DRS.
Fernando Alonso’s chances of points seemed quite good following a long first stint that saw him move up into seventh place. However, a problem with his brakes meant that he could not stop when he pitted for a second time, causing him to overshoot his box before the front of the car began to exude smoke. McLaren had no choice but to retire the Spaniard, ending his hopes of a happy home race.
Having dropped back to around 1.5 seconds behind Vettel, Hamilton was brought into the pits for his second stop at the end of lap 32 for a set of hard tires. The Briton returned to the track in fifth place, but made light work of Raikkonen and duly set the fastest lap of the race with his fresh rubber, and soon found a way past Bottas to move up into the top three.
Rosberg and Vettel did not react to Hamilton’s stop, though, as they were on two-stop strategies, giving them a much longer stint. Vettel was brought in at the end of lap 40 for his final stop, taking on a set of hard tires that would last him until the end of the race.
Hamilton had moved up to second place thanks to his strong stint on the hard tires, but Rosberg remained in the lead as his medium tires were holding up well. Mercedes eventually brought the German in at the end of lap 45 for his final stop, fitting hard tires to the W06 Hybrid. Rosberg emerged in second place 2.5s behind Hamilton, but was informed that the Briton was on a different strategy and would not be fighting for the race win.
Mercedes finally brought Hamilton in at the end of lap 51, fitting a fresh set of medium tires. The Briton had run so strongly on the hard compound that he merged from the pits ahead of Vettel, but with a 20-second gap to Rosberg at the front, he faced a tall order to claim his fourth win of the season.
However, Hamilton had not given up hope. He began to set some quick laps on his fresh tires, but Mercedes was quick to tell him to consolidate position. The Briton challenged his engineer’s call, asking if it was impossible to catch Rosberg, but he was told that it was looking unlikely and that he should think about settling down in second place.
This allowed Rosberg to simply monitor the gap in the closing stages of the race before crossing the line after 66 laps and clinch his first victory of the 2015 season, finishing 17.5 seconds clear of Hamilton in second place.
After struggling on the prime tire, Vettel limped home in third, some 30 seconds down on Hamilton, whilst Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was forced to settle for fifth place at the checkered flag after failing to pass Bottas in the Williams in the dying stages of the race.
Felipe Massa enjoyed a rather lonely race en route to sixth place for Williams, whilst Daniel Ricciardo came home in seventh as the lead Red Bull. Teammate Daniil Kvyat finished tenth in the team’s second car, with Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz Jr. splitting the pair. Max Verstappen finished the race in 11th place for Toro Rosso, narrowly missing out on points.
Felipe Nasr came home in 12th for Sauber ahead of Sergio Perez, Marcus Ericsson and Nico Hulkenberg as Sauber and Force India paid the price for a lack of updates in Barcelona.
Jenson Button’s day did not go to plan as he finished in 16th position for McLaren, struggling to find any kind of pace. The only drivers to finish behind him were Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi in the Manor cars.
With this win, Rosberg has brought himself back into the thick of the title fight, cutting the lead to Hamilton at the top to 20 points. The Briton was made to look second best for the first time in 2015, but will be keen to respond at the next race in Monaco.