A beaming and breathless Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to his Mercedes team and championship leader Sebastian Vettel after reviving his title bid with a storming victory in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
The three-time world champion roared home 3.5 seconds ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari after a tense, strategic and dramatic race at the Circuit de Catalunya.
His win cut the four-time champion German’s lead to six points after five races this year, but it was the thrilling nature of their wheel-banging contest that delighted the drivers and the crowd.
“That is how racing should be,” said a delighted Hamilton. “Seb was really fast! My start was not good enough -- I got a bit of wheel-spin and I will have to talk to my guys about that, but the team did a great job this weekend.
“At Turn One, when we made contact, I just felt like I ran out of road and I was on the outside… But that is racing -- and I wouldn't have changed it for the world.”
Vettel, smiling, said: “I was pushing. I had a really good start. Lewis and myself picked up wheel-spin straight away. I pulled the clutch in and could gain on him.
“I stayed ahead and then got into a nice rhythm. But Lewis was fast, too. I tried to brake as late as possible into Turn One, locked up, but managed to stay ahead. Then, when I was alone, he just flew past me down the straight.
“It was a shame, but it was a nice race.”
Hamilton added: “That was a very tough race. Physically it was hard. My neck is fine, but I lost nearly two kilos out there today and I was really straining to keep up with Seb.
“It is a real privilege to race against someone as good as him.”
Hamilton recovered after losing the lead from his 64th pole position to make the most of key strategic decisions — including switching him to a set of medium tyres at his first stop, when Vettel remained on softs — and a selfless contribution from his team-mate Valtteri Bottas to win with power and precision.
Finn Bottas, who claimed his maiden F1 victory in Russia last month, played a tactical part in Mercedes success before he was forced to retire after an engine failure.
It was Hamilton’s second win this year and the 55th of his career.
Vettel now leads the championship with 104 points to Hamilton on 98.
“It was a very tough race with the strategy and the driver coming together,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “It is very good and very satisfying for the team..”
Asked if Hamilton had ‘come back’ after his loss of pace and form at Sochi two weeks earlier, he replied: “He never went away.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull to claim his first podium of the season, more than a minute adrift of the leaders, ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
“We had a little bit of fortune today with Valtteri (Bottas) stopping, but we take all we can and it's nice to be up on the podium. I'm happy to be spraying some champagne again…
“Actually, the race was quite a lonely one. I didn’t have any real battles and my race was more about trying to keep a rhythm and maintain concentration.
“I don’t think it’s impossible to catch the leaders at some point, maybe it will take a little longer than we had hoped, but we will get there. I think I got the maximum out of the car today and moving on to Monaco we will have a few more updates and at that track it’s fair to say anything can happen.”
German Nico Hulkenberg came home sixth for Renault, ahead of compatriot Pascal Wehrlein of Sauber, who lost his place due to a time penalty for a pit-lane mistake during the race.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz was eighth on the road, but classified seventh, ahead of Russian Daniil Kvyat who did a superb job for Toro Rosso after starting at the back of the grid, and Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas.
Every driver, apart from those on the podium, was lapped during an exhausting contest that saw Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and last year’s winner Dutch teenager Max Verstappen crash into retirement at the first corner on the first lap.
“Guys what can I say?” said Hamilton on his team radio. “A fantastic job this weekend – thank you. The strategy was right on it.”