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F1 Spain: Hamilton’s 100th pole; his 98 race win

Barcelona, Spain, May 9/21 (GRW): When Max Verstappen took the lead on the first lap, F1 fans thought they might be seeing another Verstappen win. But, in the end, Verstappen fell behind to some combination of inferior pit stop strategy and Lewis Hamilton’s superior speed, finishing second some 15 seconds behind Hamilton – with the other Mercedes driver trailing in third place well behind the other two.

The gaps between these three at the finish were misleadingly large because both Bottas and Verstappen, once they knew they had not hope of winning, each made a late pit stop to take on soft tires in the quest for the fastest lap. Bottas came in first and he did set a fastest lap but then Verstappen pitted for soft tires and he did capture the fastest lap of the race this time.

Hamilton’s pole number 100 was only a new record for him; his closest companion in the record list is Michael Schumacher with 68 poles. Hamilton has also long since passed Schumacher in race wins, now it stands at 98 for Hamilton to 91 for Schumacher.

At the start, Verstappen quickly closed up on Hamilton and within a couple of turns he had barged past him into the lead – and he soon moved out ahead with a comfortable margin over the one-second DRS criterion. However, on lap 6, Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri) came to a stop on the side of the course bringing out the Safety Car. This closed up the field and cost Verstappen his time-margin cushion.

On lap 21 of the 66-lap race, Verstappen pitted and he switched over to medium tires. The pit stop was a bit slow and now he was committed to run the rest of the distance on this set of tires. Meanwhile, Hamilton kept racing around in the lead until lap 28, when he finally pitted. He came out about five seconds behind the Dutchman – and now the long haul race to the finish on these tires was on.

Hamilton, on his slightly newer tires, started to close the gap. By lap 38, he was within DRS striking range but instead of continuing to press Verstappen, he turned into the pits for another set of fresh tires, changing up the race strategy. Had Verstappen followed him in on that very lap, they would have come out close together and still racing for the lead. Once Hamilton had put in a fast lap on his new tires, it was too late for Verstappen to match his two-stop strategy and his goose was cooked with over 20 laps remaining.

Hamilton’s stop had dropped him to third over 15 seconds behind Verstappen but he was faster. On lap 52, he had to push his way past an uncooperative Bottas to take over second place. Now he started to reel in Verstappen.

By lap 60 Hamilton had closed to within a couple of seconds behind the race leader and it was
clear that Verstappen would be unable to hold him off. The Red Bull team conceded and they called him in for fresh tires; he came back out and won the point for fastest lap but that was the best he could do.

Rounding out the top six finishers were Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren). Of the Canadians, Lance Stroll finished 11th, one lap down, and Nicholas Latifi was 16th, also one lap down.

Hamilton explained it like this, “It was really close off the start, there was a lot of rubber down on the right hand side of the grid and Max got a really good start. I then went hunting and was so close to Max for so long during the opening stages of the race, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make the tires last in the dirty air. It looked like a long way back after the second stop – it was something like 20 seconds off Max – but it was a really bold call by the team. I was really conflicted, it felt like I might have the shot to make the move before Max stopped, but we just have that trust between us in the team and it was a great call.”

Verstappen said after the race, "I tried everything I could today and took the lead at Turn 1 but from there we were just lacking a bit of pace to Mercedes. Of course we wanted to win but I cannot feel too disappointed as I did everything I could out there and maximized the opportunities. Even if we had looked at another strategy and done a two stop and pitted before them, we wouldn't have made the time up as they were just faster than us.”

• Click HERE for the Race Results + Points

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