Vettel left scratching his head after Hamilton's Spain win

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Lewis Hamilton left the Russian Grand Prix scratching his head, at a loss to explain why he had struggled all weekend with the balance and handling of the Mercedes.

The questions were posed to both the driver and the team, with Toto Wolff insisting there was “no silver bullet” required to rectify those issues.

In the space of just two weeks, Hamilton is back to winning ways, merely further paving the way for a rivalry for the ages with Sebastian Vettel.

Will it prove a three-way title race? At this stage perhaps it is too early to say but, despite Valtteri Bottas’ excellent race win during Hamilton’s season nadir in Sochi, it seems unavoidable that 2017 will be a title race dominated by Hamilton and Vettel.

In Spain, there was everything. First off was the wheel spin on the line followed by Vettel getting the jump on Hamilton.

Even more exquisite was the moment they appeared side by side post-pit stop, the pair banging wheels and Hamilton forced into the run-off area.

And in the final chapter of their latest head to head, Hamilton gained the upper hand, using DRS with aplomb to fly past Vettel and take a race win which had, at one stage, looked highly unlikely.

The pair were all smiles post-race, no suggestion between either that one was more at fault than the other in the wheel-banging episode. In fact, Hamilton went as far as to say, “it’s a real privilege to race against such an awesome driver”.

Trying to second guess who will come out on top in what looks likely to be a season-long duel is impossible to predict.

There is no doubting the capability of both men but their tussle is as much as an engineering race as one on track.

The Spanish Grand Prix was a pertinent case in point in that argument, Mercedes’ car, the W08, coming out with its first big upgrade of the season.

We’ll talk of the nuances of that change in a moment but arguably the key aspect was the fact that the upgrades – in Spain at least – made the Merc seem a lot kinder to the soft tyres than they had been.

Most watching thought that even when Hamilton scythed into the lead, the race could well end up being Vettel’s still, so kind have the Ferraris been on the softer rubber but Hamilton held firm with barely a quibble down the race radio about how the Pirellis were late on as he has done at past races.

So what has been behind the W08’s increase in pace? Most simplistically put, the car is lighter and, with less weight to carry around the track, is hence quicker. The general consensus is it has been about 6kgs overweight this season but that has been slimmed right down.

Much of that weight shedding has come from a revised gearbox while, in addition, the suspension has been overhauled both at the front and the rear, seemingly giving Hamilton’s car a far greater balance at the opening European race of the season.

While Mercedes went for one big upgrade – in part down to the complexities of the work on their gearbox – Ferrari have been chipping away in the development race all season long.

There were the front wings and new floor in Bahrain, while there were further aerodynamic alterations in Barcelona: slight tweaks to the front wing and bargeboards, with a shift in its T-wing, of which it was the front-runner.

What have all those changes meant? Well, one would argue on the outcome of this race that Mercedes are now quicker although Vettel had gremlins in the pits, Hamilton got the jump with his and strategically Merc were just that bit wiser.

So are Merc really quicker at this stage? To a certain degree, it’s a moot point but Vettel tellingly said to Daniel Ricciardo, the third man on the podium, “I was eight seconds ahead and then…I don’t know how we managed to lose that. I dunno.”

Vettel may be taking his turn to scratch his head but he has not once finished out of the top two this season and keeps his championship lead for six points.

It’s a rivalry finally balanced. Monaco in two weeks time cannot come soon enough.

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F1 round-up: Hamilton beats Vettel in thrilling duel in Spain

Sport360 staff 14/05/2017

Lewis Hamilton edged Sebastian Vettel in a thrilling duel in Spain which saw both drivers overtake each other, as well as a wheel-to-wheel battle between the Mercedes and Ferrari men.

Vettel got the jump at the start to pass pole-sitter Hamilton, and set about extending his lead in the early stages of the race. Mercedes tweaked their strategy tweak to put Hamilton on the slower, medium tyres after his first pit stop, after Vettel had already pitted and stuck to the soft tyres.

It meant that Hamilton would be on the quicker tyre after the second round of pit stops, allowing him to attack. And the Brit nearly went ahead right after Vettel's second stop, as the German came out from the pit lane only inches ahead of his rival. The two went wheel-to-wheel, but Hamilton was forced wide and Vettel kept his place.

However, Mercedes' strategy decision paid off as he was able to attack Vettel, and he regained the lead on Lap 44 with a relatively straightforward pass. From there, he controlled the race to wrap up a victory and cut Vettel's championship lead to six points. DRIVER OF THE DAY It was a close-run fight between Vettel and Hamilton, but the Ferrari man won this particular battle, if not the race itself. Vettel got off to an excellent start to take the lead from Hamilton, and later pulled off a brilliant overtake on Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was doing a job for his team by holding Vettel up. FASTEST LAP After Hamilton overtook Vettel, he set about extending his gap to avoid the threat of Vettel coming back at him at the end of the race. Ultimately, he practically cruised to victory, picking up the fastest lap on Lap 65. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Last year's winner in Spain, Max Verstappen, was always unlikely to reprise his heroics this season, but to not make it out of the first lap would have been a bitter disappointment. A racing incident in which Bottas struck Kimi Raikkonen, who consequently hit Verstappen, saw both Raikkonen and Verstappen out of the race. ONE TO WATCH Pascal Wehrlein got his best-ever F1 finish, ending up 7th on the track, although he was knocked down to 8th due to a five-second penalty. The penalty was down to a careless error, but the Sauber driver had an excellent race otherwise.

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Alonso delivers stunning qualifying performance to go 7th

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One day on from abandoning practice to play tennis after yet another Honda engine failure, Fernando Alonso qualified seventh on Saturday for the Spanish Grand Prix.

“A beautiful day,” he declared, beaming in front of his adoring home fans at the Circuit de Catalunya, where he won his last Formula One race, with Ferrari, four years ago.

“Today was a beautiful day, a beautiful qualifying, in which we were finding tenth after tenth. Then, surprisingly we made it into Q3 and we had another very good lap…

“As I said yesterday (Friday), sometimes the weekends start the wrong way, but then they fix themselves and vice versa. The important thing now is tomorrow — to try and get a few points.”

On Friday morning, he was unable to run in the opening practice after his McLaren-Honda engine failed, returning in the afternoon for an unimpressive set of laps in second practice.

But overnight work on a progressive car that has been let down by its power unit paid dividends on Saturday for the two-time champion who is set to miss the Monaco Grand Prix later this month.

Instead, he flies to the United States on Monday to begin preparations for the Indianapolis 500 for which he passed his rookie test last week.

“Maybe, on the oval, I learned how to go quick on the straights as well,” he said. “For me, it was a good qualifying for us and P7 is a gift so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

Alonso outpaced his McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne by half a second, the Belgian qualifying 19th.

“Yesterday was not a normal session,” added Alonso. “We had the problem in the morning and then the car was half ready for the second session. I said we would be more competitive today…

“It was better than expected, but the support from the people gives a few extra tenths.”

A McLaren revival may persuade Alonso to stay with the team next year.

On Thursday, he told a news conference he would be open to offers from other teams if McLaren-Honda were not able to develop a potential race-winning car for 2018 before the end of August.

From AFP

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