Lewis Hamilton is back in charge of the world championship after a superb start fired him to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was handed a rare thrashing by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday, but the British star returned to his notorious best, winning at a canter.
British teenager Lando Norris crashed with Lance Stroll which saw the introduction of a safety car with 20 laps to run.
But Hamilton remained in complete control, taking the chequered flag ahead of Bottas as Mercedes secured their fifth consecutive one-two.
Hamilton, who also scored a bonus point for the fastest lap, now leads Bottas by seven points in the title race.
Ferrari’s disappointing campaign continued as confusion reigned over their strategy with both drivers losing out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in fourth, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fifth.
Vettel is now 48 points behind Hamilton after just five rounds.
“It was an interesting start and very, very close,” said Hamilton after his third consecutive win in Spain and 76th in all.
“I knew that Valterri would brake super-deep, so it wasn’t a replay of what happened in Baku.”
Reflecting on the opening moments of the race, Bottas said: “It was pretty tight, but I lost it at the start.
“There was strange behaviour with the clutch which I never felt before. I am keen to find out why it was so bad and why it happened.”
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Hamilton, Formula One’s fastest-ever man over one lap, will have been irked by the margin of his defeat to Bottas in the shootout for pole position.
But the Englishman made amends off the start line, drawing alongside Bottas within a matter of metres before making the move stick on the 300-metre charge to the opening bend.
Vettel was quick out of the blocks, too, switching to the outside of the Mercedes pair, with Bottas in a Ferrari-Hamilton sandwich.
Vettel went for glory, but locked up in the braking zone and ran off the track. Verstappen then sailed around the outside of the German at the next corner.
With Hamilton galloping into the distance, the attention turned to Vettel, now on damaged rubber after his ambitious first-corner salvo.
Leclerc was all over the back of his team-mate, but Ferrari waited until lap 11 before giving the order for a wounded Vettel to move aside. Vettel was desperate to stop for new tyres, but his team were determined to keep him out.
After querying the decision on several occasions, he eventually came in on lap 19. Leclerc stopped on lap 26, but curiously was put on the harder tyre. Vettel behind, on the speedier medium compound, was faster than Leclerc.
“What is going on with these tyres?” Leclerc, 21, asked. Despite putting their drivers on different strategies, Ferrari dithered on whether to usher Leclerc aside.
The order eventually arrived on lap 33. By then, both men had lost time duelling for position. Moments later, Vettel stopped for a second time, with Ferrari perhaps hoping Leclerc may be able to make it to the end.
But any advantage he might have had was wiped out when Norris biffed Stroll at the second bend. Stroll ended up in the gravel, and Norris stopped on the track with damage to his McLaren.
The ensuing safety car effectively afforded all the drivers a free stop, leaving Ferrari no option but to bring in Leclerc for a second time. Verstappen benefited to take third in what has been an impressive season for the Red Bull driver.
Valtteri Bottas delivered a statement of intent in the Formula 1 championship by blowing away Lewis Hamilton to secure pole position for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Bottas, who heads Hamilton in the title race by one point, finished a staggering 0.634 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate in Barcelona.
It marked Bottas’ third straight pole. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will start from third place – he finished almost nine tenths down on Bottas.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen managed to split the Ferraris. He lines up in fourth ahead of Charles Leclerc.
Bottas might have considered himself fortunate to hang on to his seat at Mercedes following an underwhelming campaign last year, in which he failed to win a single race.
But the Finn will be delighted with his start to the season, sharing two victories apiece with Hamilton, and securing yet another pole here.
Hamilton has not been at his best this weekend. The world champion made an uncharacteristic mistake on his opening timed lap to finish well behind his team-mate.
“Valtteri has been quick all weekend and I just didn’t put the laps together,” said Hamilton.
“It just wasn’t a good enough job.
“I will be giving it everything tomorrow. We will try to convert this into a one-two finish and if I can reverse it I will be happy.”
Bottas added: “The season has started well and the way I hope for. I feel better and better in the car.”
Vettel had hoped the Barcelona track would be the venue for his championship fightback.
But the German, already 35 points adrift in the title race, could find no answer for the speed of the Mercedes cars.
Indeed, it is looking more and more likely that Bottas could provide the biggest threat to Hamilton’s quest for a sixth world crown.
There were gloomy faces in the Renault garage as Nico Hulkenberg fell at the first hurdle of qualifying. Hulkenberg finished seventh in the championship last year, but his French team are struggling this term.
Daniel Ricciardo, who turned his back on Red Bull to join Renault, did well to get his car into the top 10, but the Australian serves a three-place grid drop after he reversed into Daniil Kvyat at the last race. He will be 13th on the grid.
Ricciardo’s penalty promoted Lando Norris to 10th. The Brit, who is steadily impressing in his maiden season, finished two spots ahead of Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.
British rookie George Russell finished 1.2 sec ahead of his Williams team-mate Robert Kubica, out-qualifying the Pole for a fifth time in as many races.
The 21-year-old, however, will be demoted to the back of the field, penalised for taking on a new gearbox after he crashed out of final practice.
Hamilton was fourth in the first running of the weekend, lapping more than half-a-second adrift of his Mercedes team-mate.
Bottas, however, missed the final 15 minutes of the session with an hydraulic issue. An oil leak contributed to the Finn’s engine shutting down, with Mercedes now investigating the source of the problem.
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For Hamilton, bidding to claim a hat-trick of consecutive Spanish wins, the Briton struggled with tyre wear on his fastest lap before finishing six tenths back.
Haas’ Romain Grosjean was the only other driver to finish within one second of Bottas. The Frenchman was fifth ahead of McLaren driver Carlos Sainz. In the sister McLaren, British teenager Lando Norris ended the running in 16th, 2.1 sec off the pace.
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