Sir Lewis Hamilton has described how he chose to “bail out” at the first corner of the Spanish Grand Prix to avoid a collision with Max Verstappen.
The seven-time World Champion started from pole position for the 100th time in Formula 1 but had feared giving a tow to his rivals on the 600-metre run down to Turn 1.
That was exactly how it played out as Verstappen, who started second in his Red Bull, took the slipstream from the Mercedes and dived down the inside at the first braking zone, the two cars getting perilously close to swapping paint.
But although Hamilton lost that particular battle and was chasing Verstappen for the vast majority of the race, he ultimately won the war as Mercedes’ superior strategy, bringing him in for a second pit-stop on lap 42, proved the key decision at the Circuit de Catalunya.
On much fresher tyres, Hamilton took just 18 laps to close a deficit of over 20 seconds to the Red Bull and get past Verstappen to record his 98th F1 race victory – and extend his World Championship lead to 14 points.
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Asked about the start during an interview with Sky F1, Hamilton said: “It was great. He [Verstappen] was in my blind spot. If you look in your mirror you can see a straight line back, but he was in an area where I had no idea exactly how far he was alongside.
“I think we braked late into Turn 1, as late as we could, and I had to bail out eventually otherwise we were going to contact.
“After that, my strategy just switched. No issue. It was kind of like ‘okay, game on, let’s figure out how we can catch him and get by’.”
Hamilton had the faster race pace but on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, it was that bold strategy call that made a significant difference.
However, the 36-year-old Briton had been unconvinced at the time about the merits of stopping for new tyres just at a point when he was about to attack Verstappen.
“I was about to have a shot at getting past him,” said Hamilton. “I was really conflicted, like ‘do I come in or do I ignore the call and stay out?’
“Obviously I did what the team asked and naturally that’s because there’s a great trust between us.
“It was a big gamble and we had to execute it perfectly and I think we did that together.”
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