Who would’ve thought it? On a circuit where overtakes usually come at a premium and Mercedes have dominated of late, we were instead treated to a blockbuster afternoon in Barcelona, headlined by a tense duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Modern classic would admittedly, be a slight overstatement, but the Spanish Grand Prix certainly delivered.
As is becoming a key theme in 2017, strategic ebb-and-flow supplied the intrigue. In short, spending less time on the relatively slow medium compound tyre allowed Hamilton to gain the advantage over Vettel.
Hamilton took the medium compound into the middle stint – which lasted just 15 laps – while Vettel ran the slower tyre for the final 29 laps.
The extended final stints were facilitated by the virtual safety car. When Hamilton made an earlier than anticipated second stop, it forced Ferrari’s hand. They had to pit immediately afterwards in order to retain track position and attempt to fend off Hamilton, despite being on medium tyres.
In reality, the race was a lot closer than it needed to be. Mercedes were indecisive behind the virtual safety car, leaving Hamilton out on his first tour past the pit entry and instead, choosing to box the Englishman on the second lap of the full course yellow, just as the green light signalled the restart.
Had Mercedes boxed Hamilton the lap previous, his pit lane loss time would have been significantly less and surely would have given him track position over Vettel’s Ferrari once the German emerged from his green-flag pit stop.
Credit has to be given, however, to Mercedes strategist James Vowles and his team of engineers for ultimately picking a faster route to the checkered flag than Ferrari in what was a complex battle. It was a bold decision to switch to the soft tyres with a full 30 laps remaining, yet one that they were rewarded for.
Had Hamilton not managed to pass Vettel for victory, however, the tone of this article would have been very different indeed.