Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in action during the race on Sunday. Photo: Albert Gea/Reuters

Barcelona – Ferrari needed to hit back in Spain after losing their early season sparkle but a surprise pitstop, helped Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton screech away to victory and extend his lead overall.

Sebastian Vettel was keen to absolve Ferrari of blame for a second pit visit during a virtual safety car phase. But whatever the reason, his tyres wore out quicker than other teams and the stop itself took so long he ended up finishing fourth.

“Our tyres didn’t last as long as for the others, so we couldn’t follow the same strategy. We had to stop again and we obviously lost two positions, and also a bit of time during the pit stop itself,” the German said. 

“But staying out was not an option. We had problems finding the right balance of the car and we were struggling with the front tyres. But I see no reason for not being optimistic for the next race.”

That next race is in the winding streets of Monaco on May 27. Hamilton now leads Vettel by 17 points after five of 21 races. “We definitely go to Monaco on a high note, but we know that we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s really important that we all continue to push and work as hard as we have done during this first part of the season.”

It was Mercedes’ first one-two of the season with Valtteri Bottas coming second, but he too was slightly cautious.

“Before the race we thought a one-stop would be nearly impossible, but when we saw the tyres were holding up better than expected we changed our strategy,” the Finn said.

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“The next race in Monaco could be difficult for us. I think Red Bull will be really strong and Ferrari was on pole last year.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third after keeping out of trouble for once and showing what the young Dutchman can achieve when he maintains his concentration and does not take unnecessary risks.

In contrast, Haas driver Romain Grosjean had another weekend to forget, going out in the first lap in Barcelona.

He said he caught “dirty air” from team-mate Kevin Magnussen, leading him to spin off and back onto the track, hitting Nico Huelkenberg’s Renault and the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly.

“I’m sorry for the others that were involved - there wasn’t much I could do once the car went,” the Frenchman added.