Mercedes appear to have finally hit their stride in the 2018 Formula One season after Lewis Hamilton claimed a comfortable victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The defending world champion had to wait until the fourth round in Azerbaijan to pick up his first win of the campaign, but an imperious drive in Barcelona made it back-to-back victories for the Briton.
After making his pole position stick into turn one and waiting patiently during a six-lap period under the safety car, Hamilton rapidly stretched his lead over championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who had overtaken Valtteri Bottas at the start.
The safety car's appearance was brought about by a huge crash that saw Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly wiped out by a spinning Romain Grosjean on the opening lap.
With Vettel some way off Hamilton's pace and Kimi Raikkonen forced into retirement by an engine problem, the biggest challenge to Mercedes threatened to come from Red Bull’s decision to adopt a one-stop strategy.
But Mercedes, who pitted some 10 laps earlier than the two Red Bulls, managed their tyres to the finish, while Vettel's hopes were futher dashed by his own slow second stop under the virtual safety car.
That left the German to settle for fourth, as Bottas and Max Verstappen joined Hamilton on the podium.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth, ahead of Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.
The result sees Hamilton stretch his lead at the top of the drivers' standings to 17 points after five races.
HAMILTON HITTING FORM
The downbeat early-season mood at Mercedes is slowly being shaken off as they take their customary position at the top of the standings.
Hamilton becomes the first driver since Michael Schumacher – who won the race four times in succession from 2001 to 2004 – to claim back-to-back victories in Barcelona.
"Today, the car and myself – I felt that synergy today that I hadn't been feeling all year, so it's a good feeling," said Hamilton.
"This is when we're going to start to try continuing to apply the pressure.
"A one-two for the team. I hope we can continue."
Bottas claimed his first Spanish Grand Prix podium, while Verstappen’s race was compromised late on when he damaged his front wing running into the back of Williams’ Lance Stroll.
The safety car has helped add to the drama of the early part of the 2018 season and its appearance early in Sunday's race means it has been used in the opening five races of a championship for the first time.
But it was the virtual safety car that arguably had the biggest say in Sunday’s race.
Ferrari acted quickly to bring in Vettel as they looked to make gains with the rest of the field speed-restricted, but he was held up by Sergio Perez in the pit lane, limiting the benefits of the move and leaving the 30-year-old to miss out on the podium.
Later reports suggested Vettel may have been forced into the stop due to an issue with his rear tyres.
MORE TEARS FOR YOUNG KIMI FAN?
Last year's Spanish Grand Prix was where a young Kimi Raikkonen fan was famously caught on camera crying his eyes out following the Finn’s early retirement.
The boy was later invited into the paddock to meet his hero in a bid to cheer him up.
However, as a guest of F1 at this year's race, he will once again have been left downhearted after the 2007 world champion was forced out with an engine issue after 25 laps.
IN THE POINTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes): +20.593s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull): +26.873s
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari): +27.584s
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault): +50.058s
6. Kevin Magnussen (Haas): +1 lap
7. Carlos Sainz (Renault): +1 lap
8. Fernando Alonso (McLaren): +1 lap
9. Sergio Perez (Force India): +2 laps
10. Charles Leclerc (Sauber): +2 laps
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 95
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 78
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 58
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 48
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 47
1. Mercedes 153
2. Ferrari 126
3. Red Bull 80
4. Renault 41
5. McLaren 40
Formula One's next stop will be its most iconic, as the season arrives on the streets of Monte Carlo on May 27.
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