Hamilton defeats Vettel in thrilling Spanish GP strategic scrap

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The battle between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel reached a fever pitch in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, as a mix of differing tire strategies, contact and hard work saw Hamilton emerge with his second win of the 2017 Formula 1 season after a thrilling battle.

With Vettel in second, Hamilton has now closed what was a 13-point gap entering the race (86-73) to just six (104-98) with a crucial victory heading to the Monaco Grand Prix later this month.

Behind the top two, Daniel Ricciardo scored his first podium of the season for Red Bull, albeit quite a ways behind, with Sahara Force India having a banner day in fourth and fifth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who continue their points scoring streaks.

Both of the top two drivers turned in star drives, but the midfield battle was fascinating to monitor as some of the heavy hitters fell out of contention early.

On the start, Vettel got the launch passed Hamilton, but last year’s first and second place finishers, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen, were done on the first lap.

Contact between the two of them – plus Valtteri Bottas – saw the first two with significant damage to their wheels and suspension and out of the race, and thus unable to repeat their encore performance of a year ago.

Bottas got a flying start and got to the inside of Raikkonen, who was sandwiched in the middle and sustained left front damage. Verstappen, on the outside, collided with Raikkonen and sustained right front damage while Bottas emerged unscathed.

A young Ferrari fan was sad and captured on camera, and Raikkonen looked stranded before commencing the walk back to the paddock, although that would later have a happy ending.

In the chaos, Fernando Alonso also ran wide after starting seventh at the exit of Turn 2 and Felipe Massa also had smoke emanating from his Williams, as the two former Ferrari teammates collided on exit, with Massa suffering damage.

Vettel had a two-plus second lead over Hamilton at the end of the first lap with Bottas third, Ricciardo fourth and the pair of Force Indias up to fifth and sixth as Perez and Ocon capitalized for position. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso) and Romain Grosjean (Haas) moved into the top 10 with Alonso dropping down to 11th, and Pascal Wehrlein up to 12th in the first Sauber.

Both first lap incidents were reviewed by the stewards with no further action taken. Bottas’ role in the three-wide incident was also later reviewed, also with no further action taken.

With all drivers except Jolyon Palmer, Daniil Kvyat and Stoffel Vandoorne starting on Pirelli’s soft tires – these three started on mediums – tire management the rest of the way was going to be key to success, and came down to pit stops as to whether Hamilton could complete the undercut to overcome Vettel’s sustained two-plus second lead.

But it was Vettel that blinked first for Ferrari, pitting on Lap 14 and continuing on a second set of softs, which set him up for a three-stop strategy. That promoted Hamilton to the lead over Bottas but Vettel got Ricciardo for third on Lap 16, and on a fresher set of tires could begin his charge back from 20-plus seconds back.

Around the same time, a cracking scrap between Magnussen and Sainz on track continued elsewhere as they nearly collided – twice – while leaving the pit lane. That incident was placed under review by the stewards.

Hamilton finally responded on Lap 22, but switched onto mediums, which meant he was good to go to the regulations but would be on the slower tires while Vettel could continue to run further on the softs. Hamilton emerged about eight seconds behind Vettel at this time, while Bottas moved into the lead having not yet stopped.

Bottas was then left to defend against Vettel, who needed to get past the Finn. Bottas locked up his tires on Lap 24 which nearly left an opening for Vettel, but the German was unable to get through… briefly.

Vettel finally made it past Bottas, almost on the grass, into Turn 1 for the lead on Lap 26. But he’d lost a fair bit of time behind Bottas in the process, which allowed Hamilton to close up on the medium tires. Hamilton passed Bottas for second place shortly after Vettel got Bottas.

Bottas finally pitted and switched onto mediums himself, so he and Hamilton were on the same tires at the same time. A bit further back, behind the Force Indias in fifth and sixth, Sauber got Pascal Wehrlein up to seventh as ace strategist Ruth Buscombe looked to run Wehrlein on a one-stop strategy.

At the halfway mark of Lap 33, Vettel led Hamilton by six-plus seconds with Bottas 20-plus seconds back in third, Ricciardo, the two Force Indias and Ocon.

The race’s complexion changed following a Virtual Safety Car period a lap later as Vandoorne’s tough rookie season continued, as he contacted Massa’s Williams going into Turn 1.

Hamilton and Vettel’s battle raged after their pit stops. Hamilton went from mediums to softs on Lap 37 but Vettel countered a lap later with a move the other way from softs to mediums.

The two collided at Turns 1 and 2, with Hamilton to Vettel’s outside, and going off track as a result. Vettel continued in the lead but on the slower tires with Hamilton then stuck in behind.

On Lap 39, Bottas’ day ended with smoke billowing from the rear of his Mercedes, which meant each of the top two teams only had one car left in the fight. It was a fiery exit for him and the first retirement of his career with Mercedes.

By Lap 44, Hamilton made the pass for the lead on Vettel into Turn 1, going to the outside of Vettel into the corner and then working to streak away.

Wehrlein’s dream drive to seventh had him just ahead of Sainz, Magnussen and Kvyat on Lap 47 and poised for big points, but the Sauber driver was later issued a five-second time penalty for not adhering to the pit entry bollard correctly. It then meant he’d need to turn it on for the final 20 laps to ensure he could deliver enough of a gap to get more points.

The race’s final act turned to whether either Vettel or Hamilton would make another pit stop for fresher tires, but the window passed when Vettel would opt not to pit for new softs.

As the laps ticked closer to the conclusion, Hamilton’s softs started to fade while Vettel was able to close a bit more on the mediums.

One final act turned with just two laps to go. Magnussen was ninth and poised for his second points finish of the year, but lost it owing to a late puncture. It was a heartbreaking end to a thrilling race from his cockpit. He pitted for fresh tires, and in consolation, Grosjean moved up to 10th place as a result.

Hamilton was able to hold on for the victory from Vettel, with Ricciardo in third quite a ways back. The Force India twins were next to complete the top five.

On the road, Hulkenberg, Wehrlein, Sainz, Kvyat and Grosjean completed the top 10. Wehrlein dropped back one position to eighth as a result of that five-second time penalty.

Magnussen dropped behind Marcus Ericsson and Alonso, who at least finished but dropped back five spots from his starting position, and Massa fell to an unlucky 14th place. Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll completed the runners.

Bottas, Vandoorne, Verstappen and Raikkonen were the four retirements.

Provisional results are below.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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