It’s now seven winners from the first seven races of 2012. F1 has stopped setting records and started making history. Lewis Hamilton and McLaren took an unshakeable grip on this race after the first round of pitstops.
Sebastian Vettel had been leading for Red Bull Racing but he was jumped by both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari who went further into the race. Those front three, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel were having a race all on their own.
Hamilton came in first for his second stop, having comfortably held a lead of between three and four seconds. And then a shock: neither Alonso or Vettel were stopping. Hamilton set about furiously making up a deficit of around 15 seconds in the 20 laps remaining. His pace was remorseless. He caught and passed Vettel on lap 62, and Alonso on 64 and then cruised to victory.
But behind Hamilton, the dreaded cliff appeared, and both Alonso and Vettel fell off it. Vettel pitted on lap 63, Alonso elected to stay out but losing huge chunks of time. Vettel managed to make up his 20 second deficit to Alonso in the remaining six laps and passed the Ferrari, but Alonso himself had already been passed by Romain Grosjean and Sergio Pérez, both of whom had ran more balanced one-stop races.
Hamilton crossed the line 2.5 seconds ahead of Grosjean’s Lotus, with the Sauber of Pérez following in third. Vettel was fourth and Alonso fifth. Nico Rosberg had an eventful race to sixth, ahead of Mark Webber who struggled with his tyres. Kimi Räikkönen was eighth for Lotus, ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in the second Sauber and Felipe Massa scored the final point for Ferrari.
The result bounces Hamilton to the top of the Drivers’ Championship on 88 pts, two ahead of Alonso and three in front of Vettel. With Jenson Button enduring a torrid afternoon and finishing down in 16th, Red Bull Racing limited the damage in the Constructors’ Championship and retain their lead over McLaren 164-133.
“It’s still sinking in,” said Lewis afterwards. “It’s been five years since I won the first time here but this feels just as good. It feels great to be back here on the top step, it’s been a long time.”
It was a slow-burner that came alive at the finish.