Lewis Hamilton put together his best race of season after nearly abandoning the Spanish Grand Prix in the early laps
- Lewis Hamilton's lousy season looked like it would continue early in the Spanish Grand Prix.
- After early contact with Kevin Magnussen, Hamilton told his team to retire the car and save the engine.
It was only one race, but Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton showed in the Spanish Grand Prix that they are not giving up on the season.
After it looked like their bad luck would continue, Hamilton fought back for an impressive fifth-place finish Sunday afternoon in Barcelona. More importantly, after Hamilton had to be convinced to stay in the race, he was arguably the strongest racer on the track.
Starting sixth on the grid, Hamilton was hit by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen as they entered the first turn on the first lap. The contact caused a puncture in Hamilton's tire.
The seven-time World Champion was forced to pit and returned to the field in 19th place.
From there, Hamilton sounded despondent, even suggesting to his team that they might be better of if they retired the car.
"I would save this engine, guys, if I was you," Hamilton told his team over the radio on lap five. "I'm sorry."
Hamilton's crew had to convince him to stay in. After the race, team principal and CEO Toto Wolff explained the decision.
"It's like testing," Wolff said. "If you can't go in the top positions, you are creating a lot of mileage. You are learning. We are racers. We never give up."
At the moment, the team told Hamilton that he could still pick up points and maybe finish eighth.
He did much better than that.
Hamilton refocused and began to pick off his foes one at a time.
- Lap 12 — 18th place
- Lap 14 — P17
- Lap 16 — P16
- Lap 22 — P15
- Lap 24 — P19 (following a pit stop)
- Lap 26 — P17
- Lap 28 — P16
- Lap 29 — P14
- Lap 30 — P12 (takes fastest lap at this point)
- Lap 31 — P11
- Lap 33 — P9
- Lap 34 — P8 (halfway point of the race and he is already where his team had hoped)
- Lap 35 — P7
- Lap 36 — P6
- Lap 48 — P5
Pretty good, but he was just getting warmed up. This is where Hamilton's dominance started to re-emerge for the first time this season.
Taking his final pit stop on lap 49, he came back out in seventh place. One lap later, Hamilton ran the fastest lap of the race to that point and easily overtook Esteban Ocon. Next on the Mercedes driver's sights was Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and former teammate Valtteri Bottas, now driving for Alfa Romeo.
Hamilton easily moved past Bottas on lap 59.
One lap later, Hamilton used DRS to sweep past Sainz in turn one.
Hamilton made the overtaking of top rivals look effortless in the late stages of the race. This was a far cry from Imola, where he struggled and failed to get past Pierre Gasly for most of the race, eventually finishing 13th.
All of a sudden, the leaderboard looked a lot like more like it did in 2021, with Mercedes and Red Bull in the top four spots.
Hamilton was asked later to give fourth place back to Sainz as the team wanted to make sure his car didn't overheat after discovering a leak in his power unit.
The all-time F1 race winner later explained his frustration in the early laps.
"It's a horrible feeling being that far behind, but you have to just keep your head up, keep pushing and hoping for the best," Hamilton told Sky Sports TV. "They thought maybe I could get to eighth. Eighth doesn't really feel like a particularly impressive result, but I was like, 'At least I'll get into the points.' To then be fighting for fourth … I was so happy with that."
Teammate George Russell finished third for his second podium of the season.
After the race, Wolff sounded cautiously optimistic that the team had turned a corner on the season.
"It was a very pleasing weekend with lots of positive signs, even though I'm not yet ecstatic," Wolff said. "We had a solid race to beat Ferrari, and with Lewis, we had probably the fastest race car of all today."
Wolff was not wrong, as Hamilton ran the final 60 laps faster than race-winner Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
When Hamilton told the team to retire the car on Lap 5, he was more than 55 seconds behind then-leader Charles Leclerc and 53 seconds behind Verstappen.
Before he was asked to let up and save the car in the final laps, Hamilton had cut the lead to Verstappen down to 39 seconds.
—Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 22, 2022
After the race, Hamilton sounded relieved, which is as close to confident as he has been this season.
"Great work, guys," he said over the team radio. "Really happy with that result. This is really positive for us all, guys. Thank you so much for continuing to push. These improvements really worked this weekend. Let's keep pushing, guys."
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