Lewis Hamilton is six points behind Sebastian Vettel in the race for the title after beating the German in an epic Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton delivered the perfect response to his off-colour performance in Russia to record his second victory of the season.
Here, we look at five things we learned from Sunday’s fascinating race.
Mercedes play the team game
Hamilton’s victory in Barcelona could prove to be pivotal in a championship battle with Vettel which has all the hallmarks of a classic. And while Hamilton will take the plaudits for his second win of the season, and the 55th of his quite remarkable career, it is his Mercedes team who deserve plenty of credit, too. Their quick-thinking ploy to pit Hamilton in the closing moments of the virtual safety car period caught Ferrari on the backfoot and enabled the British driver to slash a near-eight second deficit to Vettel in the blink of an eye. Hamilton’s ensuing overtake on Vettel clinched a remarkable fightback and ensured the triple world champion will arrive in Monaco six points shy of Vettel rather than 20.
Is friendly rivalry on the wane?
Hamilton’s relationship with Vettel has been notable for its lack of animosity, but the first real on-track battle of their rivalry suggested that it may not last. Indeed the two drivers disagreed over whether they left each other enough room as they diced for the lead and Hamilton was forced off the track. “I gave you space, otherwise we would have touched,” Hamilton said. Vettel sitting alongside the Briton jumped in. “I thought I gave you space, too.” “Not really,” Hamilton replied with a smile. “You definitely didn’t give me much space.” Vettel hit back. “We’re still here,” he said before Hamilton had the last word. “Yeah, just.” While the exchange was light-hearted, one wonders if Hamilton would have been quite so chipper with his rival had he not won.
More doom for McLaren
Fernando Alonso headed straight for America as he embarks on his Indianapolis 500 quest. But while the Spaniard will take some heart from reaching the chequered flag in 12th to record his first finish of the season, it was a largely lacklustre afternoon given he qualified a super-impressive seventh. Indeed after Pascal Wehrlein registered Sauber’s first points of the season, McLaren are now propping up the constructors’ championship on nul points. There was worse news for Stoffel Vandoorne who was handed a three-place grid penalty for Monaco after he crashed into Felipe Massa and retired.
Post-Bernie Ecclestone era taking shape
The opening leg of the European season marked the first in which Liberty Media’s blueprint on the sport was evident. The American giants have faced criticism for making few changes to a formula they acquired from CVC Capital Partners in January and was spearheaded by Bernie Ecclestone for the last four decades. But here in Barcelona, the top-three drivers, and home favourite Alonso, were interviewed on the start-finish straight immediately after qualifying before firing t-shirts into the crowd. The paddock was noticeably busier, with a Heineken bar set up for its VIP guests, while a giant robot paraded in front of the team’s hospitality suites before the race, too. The young Kimi Raikkonen fan, who was seen crying on television after the Ferrari driver crashed out, was also plucked from the stands to meet his hero. It is hard to imagine such a scenario would have taken place under Ecclestone’s regime.
Pressure on Palmer
British driver Jolyon Palmer is just five races into his second season with Renault, but it seems highly unlikely he will be retained for a third year, or indeed survive the campaign, if his current form does not improve. Palmer finished last of all the classified runners in Barcelona after qualifying a lowly 17th. His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg meanwhile, finished sixth.