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Hamilton reigns in Spain


It's not often that you see Sebastian Vettel lost for words however, amidst the smiles and banter on the track ahead of yesterday's post-qualifying presentation front of the main grandstand that is exactly what happened.

"I see you've changed your start sequence," said Lewis Hamilton, putting his hand on the German's shoulder.

"Er, um," mouthed Vettel.

"Ah, yeh..." smiled the Briton as he squeezed the German's shoulder, before turning away.

While Mercedes and, to a lesser extent Red Bull, have been pretty open about their updates this weekend, Ferrari has remained low-key.

And while, other than the much appreciated nod to its past with its driver numbers, little seems different about the SF70H, Vettel has continually hinted that the significant changes cannot be seen.

Consequently, one has to wonder has Ferrari something special planned for the start of this afternoon's race.

At 0.454 miles the run to the first corner is the longest of the season, therefore when better to make the perfect getaway. And let's not forget the incident in the first couple of corners that cost Mercedes so dearly last year.

Despite the lengthening of the pit straight DRS zone, Barcelona remains notorious for its lack of overtaking opportunities, consequently the start - and surviving the first sequence of corners - will be crucial this afternoon.

Indeed, much has been made, including by Vettel himself, that Bottas could repeat his Sochi surprise, the Finn starting from third - as he does today - taking the lead at the start and never relinquishing it.

Ignoring Ferrari, such a move today would be unthinkable, particularly for the British media, as it would place even further pressure on Hamilton.

What's really amazing, is that despite the numerous updates, we are pretty much back where we started, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull even if the gaps have changed just a little. One shudders to think what all those 'improvements' have cost and for so little outward reward.

While Hamilton has looked good for most of the weekend, he appears to not yet have fully recovered from the misery of Sochi, though appearances could be deceptive.

Both Bottas and Vettel have suffered reliability issues, both needing engine changes - in the Finn's case twice.

Kimi Raikkonen blames himself for failing to qualify higher than fourth, the Finn insisting that he needs to drive better. Nonetheless, we have a sneaky feeling that today could be Kimi's day, in fact we are tipping him for the win.

Behind the Mercedes and Ferraris we have the Red Bull duo, and once again Max Verstappen - who famously won here 12 months ago - once again appears to have the upper hand.

While the Austrian team appears to have closed the gap it is not a substantial step forward and consequently it looks as though it will be later in the year before we see the Bulls taken as a serious and sustained threat.

Behind these six it really is anyone's guess as the midfield hierarchy appears to change lap by lap. Over the course of the practice sessions and qualifying we have seen Haas and Renault look strong, only to face away, while Force India, invisible for much of the weekend, finally came good in Q3.

The form of Williams and Toro Rosso is also up and down, while surely nobody begrudges Fernando Alonso seventh place on the grid today.

While the Spaniard has said that he will wait until September/October before making any decisions, teams should be kicking his door down in order to get his signature on a contract. Ignoring the chances of further titles and wins, the fact is the Spaniard is a sure-fire points winner and there are a number of teams right now that need both drivers scoring points. Remember, it is the team standings that decide the prize money.

Furthermore, let's not forget that whatever happens today, Alonso is on duty at Indianapolis tomorrow as practice for the Indy 500 gets underway.

However, while Alonso, quite rightly, gets the plaudits for his magnificent effort, spare a thought for Stoffel Vandoorne who gets a ten-place grid penalty after McLaren changed two power unit components on his car. Then again, he was due to start 20th.

Other than reliability, over enthusiasm in the first sequence of corners or an Act of God, the other significant factor today will be tyres and tyre strategy.

With the hard consigned to the bin until Suzuka, drivers today are left with the medium and softs, and the fact is nobody will want to be on the white-banded rubber any longer than they have to.

Consequently, following the monotony of one-stop Sochi, today we will be witnessing two or three stops, the situation further complicated by the (almost) 2s a lap difference between the mediums and softs.

According to Pirelli the best strategy today is a three-stopper comprising three 20-lap stints on softs and one on mediums. On the other hand, drivers might opt for two 25-lap stints on softs and one stint on mediums at the end.

The pitlane opens and one by one drivers head out. The air temperature is currently 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 43 degrees. Though hot it is also very windy. There is said to be a 10% chance of rain.

All are starting on the soft tyres bar Palmer, Kvyat and Vandoorne who have opted for the mediums.

As they head off on the warm-up lap, Alonso is a little slow getting away. Let's hope he hasn't already booked an early flight to Indianapolis.

They're away, and Vettel has a great start edging ahead of Hamilton on the long, long run to T1. The German has the inside line and hold station, while behind Hamilton Raikkonen is caught between Bottas and Verstappen.

The Sochi winner clips the Ferrari which in turn hits the Red Bull, both running wide in the aftermath. As they rejoin it is clear that Raikkonen's suspension is badly damaged. Indeed both cars appear to have sustained damage.

As the field weaves through T1 and the dust kicked up by the Ferrari and Red Bull, Alonso runs wide after appearing to have been tagged by Massa who suffers a puncture for his trouble.

As Verstappen reports suspension damage he is asked if he can get it home, he says he can. At the end of lap 1, Kvyat and Massa pit while Raikkonen parks up at T10. Verstappen finally gets back to the pits.

At the end of lap 1, Vettel leads Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Perez, Massa, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz and Grosjean.

After 2 laps Vettel leads by 2.6s while Verstappen is pushed back into his garage his race clearly over.

As Vettel posts a new fastest lap (26.210), a forlorn Raikkonen watches from the side of the track.

A nice battle for 8th between Sainz and Magnussen while Grosjean and Alonso keep a watching eye.

Officials announce that no further action will be taken over the Raikkonen/Verstappen clash.

Lap 4 sees Hamilton go quickest as officials announce they are investigating Alonso and Massa for a first lap incident, essentially the Brazilian forcing the McLaren driver off track.

While Hamilton maintains a 2.5s gap to the leader, Bottas has fallen 5.5s behind his teammate.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.


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