Lewis Hamilton is back in charge of the world championship after a superb start fired him to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was handed a rare thrashing by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday, but the British star returned to his notorious best, winning at a canter.
Hamilton, who also scored a bonus point for the fastest lap, now leads Bottas by seven points in the title race.
Ferrari’s disappointing campaign continued as confusion reigned over their strategy with both drivers losing out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third.
Vettel crossed the line in fourth, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fifth.
Here are our key talking points from the race.
HAMILTON ROARS BACK
It feels like repetition every race week but Mercedes are simply the superior team and not even a team of Ferrari’s calibre are able to challenge them at the moment.
One of the men at the centre of their success is Hamilton who sealed his third win of the season to add to his two other second place finishes in Melbourne and Baku.
Starting from second, he produced a lightning start to outpace Bottas before turn one and maintained his lead until the end of the race.
Around Circuit de Catalunya, the 34-year-old looked comfortable and did not encounter any difficulty, finishing three seconds ahead of the Finn.
With 16 races remaining in the season, the pendulum is no doubt going to swing in opposite directions, but the Stevenage man has always proved he can come out on top when the pressure is on.
POSITIVE FINISH FOR BOTTAS
Starting on pole for a third successive time, Bottas didn’t look a patch on his Mercedes team-mate despite being fastest all weekend.
The 29-year-old was expected to clinch a third win of the season but a combination of a slow start and general lack of consistent pace saw him finish behind Hamilton and deservedly so. But, in truth, he could have been further behind, only for a safety car late on.
Still, it’s a positive start to the season for Bottas who has won twice and clinched four second place finishes – and sits second in the drivers championship.
DRIVER OF THE YEAR SO FAR?
Verstappen has been pushing his Red Bull to the absolute max and clinched his second podium of the season in Barcelona.
The Dutchman managed to put himself between Vettel and Leclerc on the starting grid in P4, and soared past Vettel early into third.
The 21-year-old proved his mettle throughout the race, staying calm and pushing hard when Vettel tried to claw back his lead late in the race.
With his teammate Pierre Gasly finishing sixth, the package appears tasty and Sunday’s results will only add to Red Bull’s prospects to compete on both drivers and constructors championship fronts for the rest of the season.
Tough times at Ferrari.
Vettel looked slow on pace from the opening lap and Leclerc was allowed to swap places with the German on lap 13.
And just as Leclerc pushed Verstappen for third spot midway through the race, the Scuderia decided to put the Monaco man on the hard tires and Vettel on the mediums, essentially ruining his race.
One would be forgiven for thinking the Italian marque were trying to sabotage his race again, as he came out of the pits slow on pace and confidence.
Vettel and Leclerc went on to finish fourth and fifth respectively, but the strategy at the Prancing Horse is simply too poor and the pit stops too slow.
No wonder their title hopes are over after five races.
It was notable to see the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean finish in the top 10 for the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
Magnussen secured his second top-10 of the season, while Grosjean sailed home in tenth after holding off the strong efforts of Alexander Albon late on.
It proved to be a successful day for Guenther Steiner and Co., but their results need to stay consistent after a poor campaign to date, where Grosjean has retired three times and Magnussen finishing 13th on three occasions.
SAINZ ON HOME SOIL
A solid afternoon for the Madrid man.
Racing in front of his home fans, Sainz shone in his McLaren and finished tenth – his second points finish this season after picking up six in Baku.
In contrast, his team-mate Lando Norris crashed out on lap 46 after a collision with Lance Stroll.
Expect this to be a close battle for the rest of the season.
Valtteri Bottas could barely believe the extent of his qualifying victory over Lewis Hamilton for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Bottas issued a statement of championship intent after beating Hamilton to pole position by an enormous 0.634 seconds.
It marked the Finnish driver’s third straight pole to continue his fine start to the campaign.
Bottas might consider himself fortunate to still be sitting alongside Hamilton at Mercedes following last season’s winless campaign.
But he has bounced back with a swagger this year, and heads into Sunday’s race at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of Barcelona holding a one-point title advantage over Hamilton – the pair tied on two victories apiece.
“For sure the gap to Lewis is big, and I never would have expected that,” said Bottas, who yelled in delight over the radio upon hearing he had taken pole.
“To complete a lap like that is a nice feeling, a nice adrenaline rush, and in terms of qualifying this has been my best start to a season.”
Hamilton paid tribute to Bottas, but there is no question he will be irked by the margin of defeat. The world champion has not been at his best this weekend, and he made an uncharacteristic mistake, running wide in his maiden assault on pole. The Briton was then unable to improve on his second attempt.
“It was a bit of a tacky Q3 for me,” said Hamilton. “It is kind of rare, but it happens.
“They were not very good laps – it is as simple as that. Valtteri was just quicker today. He deserved the pole. I am looking at all the solutions to improve in qualifying. We will get there eventually.”
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel will line up in third, but the German, who is already 35 points off the championship pace, finished the best part of nine tenths adrift.
The Scuderia hoped their new engine would provide the power boost required to reignite their faltering title charge yet they are further away from the Mercedes cars than they have been at any stage this season.
“Coming here, we didn’t expect that,” admitted Vettel.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen managed to finish ahead of Vettel’s team-mate Charles Leclerc to add to Ferrari’s disappointment.
Ferrari’s failure to build on an encouraging pre-season is ensuring Bottas may be Hamilton’s closest rival for a sixth world crown.
And it could be argued that Hamilton is sensing that, too. In the build-up to this race, the Briton has upped the ante on Bottas, challenging his team-mate to last the title course.
He was also keen to point out that one of his championship-winning engineers, Riccardo Musconi, has moved to Bottas’s side of the garage.
It was at this venue three years ago where Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided on the opening lap of the race, and the run down to the first bend, one of the longest on the calendar, could prove critical in determining the outcome on Sunday.
Hamilton said he was too kind to Bottas during the opening corners at the last round in Azerbaijan – the Finn going on to take the chequered flag.
So, will Hamilton adapt his strategy on Sunday?
“I will approach it as we always do,” he said.
British teenager Lando Norris, meanwhile, starts 10th after finishing two places ahead of Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.
Novice George Russell out-qualified Williams team-mate Robert Kubica for a fifth consecutive outing, but he will occupy the final grid spot, penalised for a gearbox change after he crashed out of final practice.
When Daniel Ricciardo passed Valtteri Bottas to score a stunning win at the Chinese Grand Prix last season, there was a genuine feeling that the Australian could challenge for a future world championship.
At 28, he was entering into his prime and had the vast array of skills and pace to light up F1 tracks worldwide on a fortnightly basis. Added to that was his high-watt smile and contagious personality, serious marketing tools for any of the elite teams.
Ferrari and Mercedes looked like frontrunners to secure his signature at one stage during last season, but the Perth native shocked the F1 world by opting instead to pen a bumper two-year deal with Renault.
The French outfit finished fourth in the constructors’ championship in 2018 and while it was hoping to make up ground on Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari with their new man, there has been little evidence of this in the opening four rounds of the season.
In the four race so far, Ricciardo has retired three times and finished seventh in China. Two weeks ago in Baku, he reversed into Daniil Kvyat after trying to overtake the Russian and then going down the run-off area.
As a result, he will have a three-place grid penalty at the Spanish GP this weekend.
Moving to a team who have not clinched a podium in eight years seemed like a bizarre decision – maybe the £26.5 million-a-year salary didn’t – and bodes the question as to whether it was a poor career move for the once-firing Monaco resident.
The early-season struggles sees Renault languishing in seventh in the constructors’ standings, behind fellow midfield contenders McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Racing Point.
Ricciardo’s smile is still evident on race weekends, although not as high-watt as his Red Bull days, nor is his supreme overtaking, partly down to the fact that the Renault struggles to overtake fast cars much anyway.
But his initial difficulties are normal in a new machine. The biggest problem for Ricciardo is how the car would not allow him to brake as aggressively as he is used to on the Red Bull’s approach to corners.
A secondary issue was the Renault was disrupted when it was driven heavily over kerbs, forcing him to change his lines in some cases.
Looking back, it is hard to argue with Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull, though, especially knowing only one driver can be a world champion from the factory and special preference acting in Max Verstappen’s favour.
Whether Renault talked too good a game during contract discussions and Ricciardo fell for the trap remains to be seen. But he was clearly fed up at his former employers and needed a fresh challenge after his disappointing eight retirements last season.
However strong the Red Bull might be, Ricciardo wasn’t happy and never would have performed to his maximum if he had stayed.
Renault were the only other option on the table at the time and has allowed him to rediscover his love in a new environment and a hefty pay day (three times his 2018 salary).
But one thing he may not have realised was the significant drop from a top team to a midfield outfit.
It’ll take time to adapt, but if he can understand the car and its limitations better over the course of the season, then results will be more positive and Renault could be sitting tidy at the top of the midfield.
It’s still early into his two-year contract but with his sky high confidence and strong driving ability, the 29-year-old needs to show why is one of the leading men on the grid.