An untouchable Lewis Hamilton completely dominated the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix with a flag-to-flag textbook victory performance for Mercedes.
His 88th career win was also his fourth straight at the Barcelona circuit. The Brit is now just three wins short of matching Michael Schumacher’s record.
Finishing 24.1 seconds behind was Max Verstappen, followed by Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. The Finn’s consolation was the bonus point for setting fastest lap (and all-time Barcelona record ) of 1:18.183 seconds on Lap 66.”
With forecasted high temperatures throughout the weekend in Spain, there were thoughts that Red Bull could repeat Max Verstappen’s amazing tyre-saving performance that had brought him victory just one week ago in the steaming heat of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
Verstappen had qualified in third place in Barcelona, giving the young ace another shot at interrupting Hamilton’s 2020 victory romp. His opportunity increased further when he pipped Bottas off the starting line and took second behind pole-sitter Hamilton.
In those first following laps, the Red Bull held on to the Mercedes, causing his engineers a bit of overconfidence. Inside the Red Bull, Verstappen knew better as Hamilton casually kept the Dutchman just out of DRS range.
“Gap is beginning to close a little on Lewis,” offered Verstappen’s engineer on Lap 5.
“Yeah, I know, but he’s just driving super slow,” came Verstappen’s answer.
Within two laps, Hamilton put the hammer down and disappeared. His soft tyres were holding up well for the first stint. There would be no “Silverstone ending” at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya 2020.
The run to Barcelona’s first corner is one of the longest on the calendar, which always makes things interesting. Hamilton made a perfect launch and quickly took command as Verstappen leapt into second at the first corner, with Lance Stroll streaking up the inside to gain two places, and pushing Bottas to fourth with Perez’ second Racing Point on his gearbox.
Hamilton immediately pushed out of DRS range of Verstappen even while the Dutchman set the fastest lap on Lap 4, taking another tenth out of Hamilton and leaving the gap a tantalising 1.3 seconds.
Once DRS was activated Bottas re-took third place in Turn 1 and start reeling in Verstappen in what had become a three-car race.
By Lap 17, Verstappen complained that his rear tyres were going off, but Bottas remained too far back to take advantage.
With the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya a problematic place for overtaking, the Red Bull driver had to extend his stint, against his preferences, to Lap 23. The order guaranteed Verstappen’s first pit stop put him out behind Bottas, but kept him in clear air ahead of the two Racing Points of Stroll and Sergio Perez in fourth and fifth respectively.
Mercedes stacked their Hamilton / Bottas stops on Lap 24 for new mediums. Hamilton emerged still leading Verstappen, while Bottas lost a spot, joining between Verstappen and Stroll.
By Lap 28 the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel are in sixth and seventh and pit on Lap 30. They rejoin in heavy traffic. Eight laps later, Leclerc spun at the chicane after an electrical issue caused the power unit to switch off mid-corner. Leclerc was able to get going but was forced to retire.
On the other side of the garage, Sebastian Vettel spent much of the afternoon languishing in the midfield before attempting a one-stop strategy.
Vettel had stopped on Lap 29 for soft tyres. Vettel asked his team: “You need to let me know now what you want to do in terms of pace.”
The reply took many laps to arrive and angered Vettel when he was asked if he could go to the end – as Vettel had pushed to know if that’s what Ferrari wanted – but the German put his head down and pushed after communicating he had nothing to lose.
Despite being losing places to Stroll and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz in the closing stages, the four-time world champion finished seventh, Vettel’s second-best result of the current season.
Down through the field, the heat and tight traffic kept the remaining teams from moving forward. When skies darkened with a chance of rain at Lap 50, you could sense the teams hoping for a surprising variable. Predictably, it was only a tease as the heavy thunderstorm slipped past the circuit without a drop.
On Lap 43, Verstappen pitted again for new mediums and hopefully, more speed. He immediately goes 0.6 seconds faster than Bottas, but Verstappen remains a distant third until Hamilton and Bottas make their final stops.
That happens on Lap 50. Bottas is first to pit for softs, and Verstappen gains a gap of seven seconds over the Finn with 16 laps to go. Hamilton remains out, gruffly requesting for mediums after rejecting the softs Mercedes offers. The Brit stops on Lap 52 for his mediums and returning to the track 9.5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
Hamilton immediately sets fastest lap at 1:20.274 – at least 1.5 seconds quicker than anyone else. No question, he wanted to dominate all the way to the checkers. Meanwhile, Bottas’ gap to Verstappen wasn’t closing on his softs. The Finn stops on Lap 65 for mediums and sets the fastest lap of the Grand Prix.
Indeed, the only worry Hamilton faced during the Grand Prix was collecting a bit of carbon fibre debris from the Antonio Giovinazzi and Romain Grosjean contact at Turn 1 on Lap 63. The carbon was deposited on the exit of Turn 2 and Hamilton hit it, but there was no damage. Perez was docked for ignoring blue flags when being lapped by Hamilton, losing five seconds at the flag.
“Spectacular tyre management” Hamilton was told after crossing the line. “I was in a different zone there,” he replied. “I didn’t even know it was the last lap.”
Perez fell to fifth, promoting teammate Stroll to fourth. Carlos Sainz took sixth, just in front of Vettel. Albon, the victim of Red Bull’s erroneous hard tyre experiment, finished eighth, in front of Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri. Lando Norris picked up the final point. The last four points-paying positions were covered by 2.1sec.
While the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix won’t go down as a classic, but it’s still a result that needs noting as Hamilton scored the 156th podium finish of his career to move clear of Michael Schumacher. Further, the Brit has now also secured more podium finishes than any other driver in the sport’s history, spraying champagne here for the 156th time, one more than Schumacher managed.
Hamilton having lapped the entire field up to third now heads to Spa with a commanding 37-point lead over Verstappen in the standings.