Lewis Hamilton was uneasy about Max Verstappen’s recent push ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.
He was also concerned about how Mercedes’ tires would respond in the scorching Spanish summer after melting last week in the less sweltering heat of Silverstone.
The fear was exaggerated. The victory number 88 of the British pilot was round. The six-time world champion came within just three of the Formula One record, Michael Schumacher’s 91.
Hamilton led Verstappen by 24 seconds Sunday to stretch his championship lead – 132 to 95 – to 37 points after six races.
“I was totally focused. I’ve felt really good, ”said Hamilton. “I didn’t even know I was on my last lap, that’s how focused I was.”
Teammate Valtteri Bottas continues to lag behind, now 43 points behind Hamilton, after winning the first race of the season.
Hamilton’s fourth win, in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, was also timely considering that Verstappen was coming off a superb victory last Sunday, a day in which Mercedes’ anxiety flared.
“It was a surprise because of the problem we had with the tires last weekend,” said Hamilton. “But it seems that we knew how to solve it.”
The pre-race topic of discussion at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit revolved around whether Mercedes tires would be vulnerable to heat.
But the reigning world champion was clearly superior and left behind Verstappen, the Red Bull driver who has been on the podium in the last nine races, going back to last season. The long-awaited tug-of-war with Hamilton never came to fruition, and Verstappen’s priority was keeping Bottas in third place.
“It’s not bad to have been in the middle of the two Mercedes. I didn’t have the same power as Lewis, but I’m happy for second place, ”said the Dutchman. “The start was crucial to overtake Valtteri.”
Although Bottas added the bonus point for the fastest lap, the Finn is six points behind Verstappen in qualifying.
The winding circuit, with a distance of 4,700 meters (2.9 miles) and its combination of slow and fast corners, is one of the most difficult for passing.
After stretching his pole record to 92, Hamilton gave no respite on the long straight into the first corner. But Bottas was displaced by Verstappen and Lance Stroll’s Racing Point – who advanced from fifth to third with a good maneuver down Bottas’ right flank.
Back on the slopes, Mexican Sergio Pérez was fifth, behind Stroll. “Checo” Pérez missed both races at Silverstone after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The temperatures on the track touched 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) and Mercedes felt that he was just hitting hard.
“These black suits are on fire,” Bottas said during the race, using a bombastic phrase.
It was another fateful day for the ailing Ferrari team, with Sebastian Vettel seventh and Charles Leclerc dropping out after an engine failure.
“It’s totally shut off,” Leclerc said.
The monk was able to return to the pits, but the mechanics were unable to resolve the damage and his race ended on lap 41.