For Mercedes, the top 5 at the last Grand Prix was a reason to celebrate, even with sheer luck. But the fact that Lewis Hamilton moved up to fifth from P19 says a lot about the progress the German marque has made with the W13. Team boss Toto Wolff even explained that they probably had the fastest race car during the race. “He was 50 seconds behind at the start, then overtook a lot of people and was even the fastest at times. That shows the potential of the car.” The Austrian’s optimistic statements almost make one wonder what would have been possible if Hamilton hadn’t collided with Kevin Magnussen. Closing such a gap even raises the question of whether the Brit could have easily gone for a win.
Hamilton’s numbers at the Spanish Grand Prix
Hamilton’s collision with Magnussen resulted in a flat tire and a pit stop. As a result, the seven-time world champion lost touch with the field. After his tire change he was 19th, 38.6 seconds behind Williams driver Nicholas Latifi and at the end of the second lap a whopping 53.9 seconds behind leader Charles Leclerc. Hamilton switched from medium to a set of used softs but made little impression. He intended to stay on this set as long as possible, but this strategy saw him lose ground to the vanguard instead of gaining them. By the end of lap eight the gap was over a minute and by the time his tire change on lap 22 he had increased to 1min 7s against Leclerc.
After moving to Medium, Hamilton’s gap to Leclerc stabilized at around 1min 16s until Leclerc’s faulty Ferrari drivetrain up front changed everything. On lap 27, teammate George Russell was leading, 1 minute and 2 seconds back. Because there was a lot of fighting for the lead, Hamilton was able to reduce the gap. Because he was riding on fresher medium – he had stopped nine laps after Russell and Max Verstappen and five after Sergio Perez – his gap to the top trio was sometimes closing by more than a second per lap. On lap 29 the gap was no more than a minute and in the laps after that Hamilton was fast. Perez passed Russell on lap 31 and the gap to Hamilton was 56.2 seconds. In the following laps, this dropped further to 49 seconds.
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Lewis Hamilton passes Carlos Sainz in Spain
Photo: Carl Bingham / Motorsport images
While the lead kept changing to another driver through pit stops at the front, Hamilton made solid progress. On lap 48, the Brit dived for the third time, just 31.2 seconds back. He switched to softs and was 51.6 seconds behind leader Verstappen after his out-lap. Hamilton used his rubber well and drastically closed the gap. In subsequent rounds, his deficit decreased as follows: 50.2, 47.8, 46.8, 45.4, 43.8, 42.0 and 40.8. He then battled Carlos Sainz for fourth place. On lap 60 he overtook the Spaniard and continued his advance. On lap 62 he was 39.3 seconds down on the F1 Champion.
However, when it was discovered that engine temperatures were rising at the Mercedes pit wall due to a water leak, Hamilton was ordered to slow down to ensure he could finish. Losing two counts per lap, Verstappen’s lead grew to 54.5 seconds when the flag fell. That was only half a second more than at the end of the second round. Hamilton was 31 seconds behind Verstappen in the final stint and those numbers suggest he could have entered the fray with Red Bull had the drama not happened on the opening lap.
But it remains difficult to assess what Hamilton’s pace would have been if he had stayed in the middle of the crowd and not been able to do his own thing but had to focus on direct competition rather than extending tire life. He would certainly have been up front before the eventual water leak would have dashed any hopes of victory.
In addition, for strategic reasons, decisions had to be made from the pit wall with Russell and there would have been consequences for Red Bull, as Verstappen didn’t have much room to make a three-stop stop. While this is theoretical, there is every reason to believe Hamilton could have taken second place with his speed. Perhaps the most important thing is how it all went. In Saudi Arabia and Imola he got stuck and didn’t make any progress.
For the man who lost the world title in Abu Dhabi last year, Spain finally gave him the glimmer of hope he had been looking for. “A race like this feels like a win,” he said afterwards. “It often feels a lot better than a win, especially when you’ve come this far and been through so much.”