Lewis Hamilton produced a superlative comeback drive to P5 in the Spanish Grand Prix after heavy contact with Kevin Magnussen resulted in a first lap puncture.
The seven-time champion looked to have regained his mojo in his much-improved Mercedes this weekend, but was still seemingly off the pace of his teammate George Russell for much of the three days.
Hamilton’s case wouldn’t improve on lap one when he washed slightly wide into the Haas of Magnussen at Turn 4, who himself was trying an overly ambitious move around the outside of Hamilton at the time. The stewards immediately decided the collision was a racing incident, but it inadvertently put both drivers to the back of the pack.
Magnussen had taken a costly trip through the gravel, and the contact had punctured Hamilton’s front left tyre and forced him to trail back to the pits for soft tyres.
After returning to the track around 30 seconds behind the next-placed car, a worryingly dispirited Hamilton came over the team radio and suggested retiring the car to “save the engine.” His race engineer, Pete ‘Bono’ Bonnington responded with the prediction that he could climb back up the order to P8 at best if he stuck at it and stayed in the race.
Hamilton would go three better in the end by finishing a very respectable P5, as his teammate Russell led the pair in P3 to get the team’s 250th podium since purchasing the Brawn GP outfit, with serious “DNF-risk” concerns which cost Hamilton a certain P4 finish when the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz repassed him in the closing stages.
The Mercedes driver admitted in a post-race interview how “grateful” he was to have kept pushing through the race in his improved W13 - deciding not to go against the team’s wishes to continue onwards - and finishing fifth after the “unfortunate” start.
“Really grateful I was able to come back,” says Hamilton. “I’m grateful for the team for keeping their head down and positive feedback coming through and for all the amazing work that has given us the improvement. The car felt great in the race, our pace is closer to the top guys in the race which is amazing. But yeah just really unfortunate at the start with the puncture I got, but I didn’t give up so that’s what we do.”
In the latter stages of the race, after managing to pass the struggling used-tyre-clad Alfa Romeo of Bottas and the Ferrari of Sainz, Hamilton and Russell were both told to heavily manage their car, lifting and coasting to prevent a surefire retirement. It was initially unclear what the problem was on each car which left Hamilton “gutted” when the home hero passed him for P4.
“Yeah it was just a lot hotter to begin with today and I think for everyone it’s quite tough for everyone with these cars. I don’t know exactly what went on with the car, I haven’t spoken to the team [yet] because I have been elsewhere, but I had to basically drive at half throttle and try to cool the car with a lot of lifting down the straight to get fresh air into the engine just to cool it down,” he explains.
“Gutted to lose the place to Sainz, especially after coming from where I came from. I was 30+ seconds behind last place, that’s like No-Man’s Land. But it’s a horrible feeling being that far behind but you have to just keep your head up and keep pushing.
“They said I could get to 8th, [but] 8th doesn’t feel like a really impressive result, but I thought at least I’ll get into the points. I was so happy with fourth” Hamilton admitted.
He also divulged how the porpoising phenomenon is still a factor in the car, and hasn’t simply disappeared thanks to the new upgrades to the floor on the Mercedes. Instead he talks of how the range in which the bouncing occurs has changed to be during the high speed corners, which still leaves work to be done by the team back at the factory.
“We still do have bouncing but not in a straight line, it’s just through the corners, but nowhere near as bad as what we had before so I’m sure the guys can fix that over time. If I hadn't had have that issue [with Magnussen] at the beginning who knows where I would’ve been, but it’s great to know we had similar pace to the frontrunners.”