The Red Bull driver extends his lead in the world championship as the improving McLaren falls just short in Barcelona.
Vettel shows his mettle to deny Hamilton for Spanish Grand Prix
BARCELONA // Mark Webber spoke eloquently on Saturday about how it is easy to “get very blase” about the great performances Red Bull Racing have consistently produced, but yesterday there was a tangible sense of relief in the team’s camp as Sebastian Vettel, the Australian’s stablemate, secured his fourth victory from five races this season at a suspenseful Spanish Grand Prix.
Vettel described in adrenalin-fuelled bursts how he held off a stressful challenge from Lewis Hamilton at Circuit de Catalunya to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to a daunting 41 points.
The German’s rear-view mirror had been dominated by the looming figure of Hamilton’s McLaren-Mercedes for the majority of the 66-lap race and when the reigning world champion crossed the finish line, the Briton followed just 0.6 seconds behind.
Jenson Button, Hamilton’s teammate, recovered from “an absolute disaster” of a first lap where he slipped from fifth to 10th to complete the podium, but he was 35.6secs further back.
Meanwhile, Webber, in finishing fourth, became the first driver in 11 years to fail to convert pole position into maximum points here.
The race was widely viewed as the litmus test for whether new regulations – adjustable rear wings, energy-saving power-boost systems and quick-wearing tyres – implemented by the sport’s rule makers had genuinely improved the possibility of overtaking.
The 78,130 Spanish fans who filled the stands yesterday certainly hoped so and they arose in celebration when local hero Fernando Alonso managed to manoeuvre his Ferrari to the front of the pack before the first turn.
But while overtaking was not as prominent as hoped, a mixture of various strategies and tyre performances produced one of the most gripping Spanish races since 1991 and allowed Vettel to impose his dominance once again at the front.
“It was pretty tough,” Vettel said. “At the beginning of the race I had a good start, but I don’t understand where Fernando came from. He was leading after the first lap and we could not get close enough in the DRS zone to pass him. But we got him at the pit stop.”
Indeed, Vettel’s pass came on the 18th lap immediately after changing from the slower, harder tyre to a softer, quicker compound.
He was able to retain that lead for the rest of the race, but Hamilton – the only driver to beat Vettel on a Sunday this season, at Shanghai last month – pushed him to his limit in the closing stages.
“McLaren were very strong, Lewis in particular,” Vettel said. “The last few laps I felt like China, with my tyres falling away. It was not an easy race; they gave us a hard time.
“It was quite a big release when I crossed the finish line. I’m extremely happy because it was a great result and is another confirmation that we are very strong.”
With Vettel at risk of running away with the championship, it was essential that Red Bull’s rivals begin to close the gap and McLaren’s ability to get two drivers on the podium was welcomed by the neutrals.
“Many people said it would not be a race, but only between Mark and myself,” Vettel said. “But we have seen proof, turn one, the Ferraris are there, and then the McLarens gave us a very hard time, so that is why I am even more happy today that we made it as these guys were pushing very hard.”
Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, called his young champion’s performance “unbelievable”.
“It was a full-on race,” he said. “Fernando changed the dynamics completely getting into the lead. He did not have fantastic pace, but it was very hard to overtake. We managed to get Seb past with the undercut and he made that really work for him and hang on, but we couldn’t do it with Mark because Ferrari could see what we were doing.”
Webber expressed frustration at his inability to get past Alonso and said the result was “a bit of a chess game”. He added: “People were covering each other’s pit-stops and I really didn’t do much racing on track.
“At certain stages I was quick and at others I wasn’t. That’s the way it was.”
Spanish GP race result
1 Vettel, Red Bull 1h39m03.391s
2 Hamilton, McLaren +0.630
3 Button, McLaren +35.697
4 Webber, Red Bull +47.966
5 Alonso, Ferrari +1 lap
6 Schumacher, Mercedes + 1 lap
7 Rosberg, Mercedes + 1 lap
8 Heidfeld, Renault + 1 lap
9 Perez, Sauber + 1 lap
10 Kobayashi, Sauber + 1 lap
11 Petrov, Renault + 1 lap
12 di Resta, Force India + 1 lap
13 Sutil, Force India + 1 lap
14 Buemi, Toro Rosso + 1 lap
15 Maldonado, Williams + 1 lap
16 Alguersuari, Toro Rosso + 2 laps
17 Barrichello, Williams + 2 laps
18 Trulli, Lotus + 2 laps
19 Glock, Virgin + 3 laps
20 D’Ambrosio, Virgin + 3 laps
21 Karthikeyan, HRT +4 lapsRetired
22 Massa, Ferrari 59 laps
23 Kovalainen, Lotus 49 laps
24 Liuzzi, HRT 29 laps
1 Sebastian Vettel, Germany 118
2 Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain 77
3 Mark Webber, Australia 67
4 Jenson Button, Great Britain 61
5 Fernando Alonso, Spain 51
6 Nico Rosberg, Germany 26
7 Nick Heidfeld, Germany 25
8 Felipe Massa, Brazil 24
9 Vitaly Petrov, Germany 21
10 Michael Schumacher, Germany 14
11 Kamui Kobayashi, Japan 9
12 Sebastien Buemi, Switzerland 6
13 Adrian Sutil, Germany 2
14 Paul Di Resta, Great Britain 2
15 Sergio Perez, Mexico 2
16 Jarno Trulli, Italy 0
17 Rubens Barrichello, Brazil 0
18 Jerome d’Ambrosio, Belgium 0
19 Heikki Kovalainen, Finland 0
20 Jaime Alguersuari, Spain 0
21 Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela 0
22 Narain Karthikeyan, India 0
23 Timo Glock, Germany 0
24 Vitantonio Liuzzi, Italy 0
Red Bull-Renault 185 pts
Ferrari 75Renault 46
Mercedes GP 40
Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
Force India-Mercedes 4
Virgin-Cosworth 0HRT-Cosworth 0