Mercedes AMG driver Lewis Hamilton found it physically taxing to win against this season’s archrival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari to win the Spanish Grand Prix the other weekend, and he could even be heard breathing heavily during conversations over the team’s radio.
The 2017 regulation changes – wider tires, more downforce – were always going to make this year’s cars tougher to drive, but Hamilton said he had to go the extra mile to overcome his championship rival this time out, such was the pace of the Ferrari.
Mercedes AMG team-mate Valtteri Bottas, however, was of great help to Hamilton during the race. Bottas had won the previous race at Sochi, Russia.
“The majority of races we do, you get into the first stint, you realize you’re second, so you have to back off, save your tires, so you’re driving at 80 percent, so you have loads of energy,” Hamilton told UK broadcasters Channel 4.
“This one I was on a knife edge the whole way, flat chat, first trying to catch him… and when you are flat chat you are using your whole body to balance the car. The car steps out, you are using your whole core to feel it,” he added.
Though Hamilton started from pole position, it was Vettel who gained the advantage at the start. The German built a lead of around eight seconds at one point, before the Briton fought back, eventually making a decisive pass – but only after a punishing 44 laps.
“I lost two kilos [in weight during the race],” Hamilton revealed, having taken the chequered flag less than four seconds clear of Vettel. “I don’t have a drink in the car [to save weight], so yeah I was feeling it, and that’s how racing should be,” Hamilton said.
“It’s not easy. People watch TV and think, ‘These guys, it’s easy for them’. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, I was on the edge the whole way,” he added.
Hamilton’s victory cut Vettel’s championship lead to just six points as they head to the next round of the season on the streets of Monaco.
“I used everything I had left when I jumped into my team [in parc ferme]– my heart rate hit the ceiling,” joked Hamilton. “I was good when I got out of the car but jumping into… I don’t know if I will do that again. I was a little bit tired after that one!”
Vettel: Bottas helped turn the race
Vettel felt that getting caught behind Valtteri Bottas was a significant factor in his eventual defeat by Lewis in a scintillating duel in Barcelona.
The Ferrari driver jumped Hamilton at the start, but opted to pit sooner than the Briton and emerged behind the second Mercedes of Bottas – who like Hamilton decided to stretch his initial stint. Despite being on older tires, Bottas managed to keep Vettel at bay for a handful of laps – which allowed Hamilton to close in, and helped swing the balance of victory in his team-mates’ favor.
“We lost a lot of time fighting Valtteri,” Vettel reflected afterwards. “We lost four seconds. I was catching him but I knew they wouldn’t pit him.”
“He was all over the place with his tires so they used him a bit to block me. He still managed to somehow get a decent exit [out of Turn 16]so I didn’t quite make it the first time round so the second time round down the straights I thought ‘now, I have to find some way, even if it’s over the grass’,” he added.
Vettel said his subsequent duel with Hamilton was equally tense, especially as he was “guessing” at where to brake when the pair went side by side into Turn 1.
“It was very close when we came out,” Vettel said. “You come out on fresh tires – I was just guessing. I wanted to stay ahead but I was just guessing on the brake point,” the Ferrari driver said.
“It worked, but there was no room for him. He reacted well, because he avoided the contact. I don’t know if we touched? I think we just missed,” Vettel added.
Asked whether he had any regrets or complaints over Ferrari’s race strategy, Vettel added: “I don’t think the decision is to blame – I think we did the right thing on strategy.”
“We made eight seconds disappear for the second stop. If you add [that and being held up by Bottas]it’s 12 seconds and it would have been a bit better, but that’s how it goes,” the Ferrari driver added.
Despite being beaten by Hamilton, Vettel still picked up his fifth top-two finish in as many races, helping him stay six points ahead of Hamilton in the 2017 title fight.