Let our F1 drivers fight: LaudaComment on this story
He was hunted and harried but finally Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix - his fourth consecutive victory and the one that finally put him on top of the World Championship table.
Back in the Mercedes team home in the paddock, a seasoned observer in his red hat - Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman - was banging the table as he declaimed in that direct Austrian style of his that Hamilton is simply unbeatable.
That proposition was mildly under threat in the closing few laps of the race as Nico Rosberg, assisted by fresher, quicker tyres, came within six-tenths of a second of overtaking him. Another couple of laps and he would probably have managed it. It provided a dramatic conclusion to a race that could best be described as a slow burner around the procession-inducing tarmac of Barcelona.
Hamilton was less than ecstatic, despite having established a three-point lead over Rosberg to lead the championship for the first time in nearly two years. “I wasn’t fast enough today,” he said. “Nico was quicker.”
Hamilton was being hard on himself (as well as tetchy in some radio exchanges earlier). But he deserved to win for being fractions better than Rosberg at the decisive moments of the weekend: in putting his car on pole and making the cleaner start to protect his advantage going into the first corner.
Lauda, contented after his team’s fourth crushing one-two of the season, declared: “Lewis Hamilton is unbeatable. It’s very simple. Because he’s getting better and better every race. He makes no mistake whatsoever. He’s got a strong personality. He’s focused. Nico tried every trick today to get him. And he did a good job, but he couldn’t pass him.
“Nico is aware at what level Lewis is driving because they both drive the same car. And Nico will continue to fight, which for me is the most important thing.
“Because if Nico keeps on pushing himself to beat Lewis, the big advantage is that both cars will go quicker. So I’m in a very comfortable situation - outstanding by Lewis and Nico trying to catch up.”
Lauda was not finished. “My strategy is very simple. We do not interfere with who is winning what. We let our drivers drive from beginning to the end. So far nothing bad has happened. If there is no third driver in championship contention then I’m completely relaxed.
“Then they can drive over each other, and whoever is surviving is the world champion. This is my dream. But we’re not there yet. When we are, it’s really going to be warfare.”
Is it? How nasty it all gets depends to some degree on Rosberg being able to match Hamilton more regularly than he has this season. If he fails to do that in the next few races, starting in Monaco in a fortnight, Hamilton’s dominance may prove unstoppable.
Rosberg said: “I wasn’t close enough to give it a go (attempt to pass Hamilton). Next lap I would have been. So I am a bit gutted. But, still, it was second place, I am close in the championship and there are many more races to go.
“The start was poor. It’s a bit of a weakness at the moment. But there are a lot of positives to take and I am fully motivated.”
Mercedes’ team hegemony certainly remains unshaken by the three-week break and the move to the European stretch of the season. The Mercedes cars were more than 49 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull in third place, though he was delayed at the start by the Williams of Valtteri Bottas. The true gap is six-tenths of a second a lap, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
THE RIGHT MOVE
Some people questioned Hamilton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes for 2013. However, he rightly detected their potential as a “super team” in embryo. McLaren, on the other hand, had lost Mercedes as partners and had not then done a deal with Honda - an arrangement that comes into effect next season.
“I feel truly blessed to be part of this team,” said Hamilton. “It is just unreal.”
The disparity between Mercedes and McLaren was clear yesterday as Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen were lapped comprehensively. That is intolerable for a team of McLaren’s stature.
Ferrari also suffered, with Kimi Raikkonen being lapped. They were at least saved from the further humiliation of Fernando Alonso suffering the same fate on his home track in front of his adoring fans.
The drive of the day probably belonged to Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel. He started 15th after being penalised for a gearbox failure, yet carved his way up to fourth. His boss, Horner, knows better than most about dominating a season, or several.
Asked if he thought Mercedes would win all 19 races, he said: “Possible but improbable.”