2014 Spanish GP: Lewis Hamilton claims championship lead after holding off Rosberg
Four-in-a-row for Hamilton despite Rosberg's late charge and tetchy radio messages; Red Bull finish 50 seconds behind, but Vettel salvages fourth; Alonso wins wheel-to-wheel Raikkonen duel at Ferrari
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 11/05/14 6:10pm
Lewis Hamilton seized the 2014 World Championship lead for the first time after beating Nico Rosberg to Spanish GP victory in after a race-long game of strategic cat and mouse distilled into a tense final-stint showdown between the utterly dominant Mercedes pair.
Two months on from the Briton's mechanical-induced retirement in Australia which effectively gave Rosberg a 25-point headstart in the title race, Hamilton's fourth consecutive victory - and first ever at Barcelona - finally usurped his Mercedes stable-mate from the summit.
Yet, like in Bahrain, his victory was the closest of close run things as Mercedes again stayed true to their refreshing promise of letting their drivers race to the limit.
Adopting reverse tyre strategies from the second stint onwards after Hamilton had converted his pole into a small but comfortable first-stint lead, Rosberg had the advantage of the faster medium tyres for the final stint and in the closing laps set about quickly reducing what had been a four-second deficit to the leading W05.
Hamilton had been engaged in an increasingly tense-sounding radio conversation with his race engineer approaching the second stops about his strategy as he failed to shake Rosberg off despite at the time being on the quicker 'option' rubber.
However, although Rosberg closed right onto his tail during the final laps, Hamilton just held on to take the chequered flag by a mere 0.6 seconds. He now leads the Drivers' Championship - for the first time since 2012 - by three points heading to Monaco.
Exorcising his own ghosts from Melbourne, the increasingly impressive Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium, his first official top-three result in F1. However, Red Bull and everyone else might as well have been in a different race after Mercedes' season-long dominance proved even more pronounced around the Circuit de Catalunya.
Finishing 48 seconds behind Hamilton, Ricciardo's only glimpse of the two W05s came fleetingly at the start, and once converted onto a two-stop strategy from mid-race, the Australian easily won the battle for third from Williams' Valtteri Bottas.
Indeed, Bottas' Williams eventually succumbed to the other Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel after the World Champion delivered a resurgent race-day performance to go from a penalised 15th on the grid to fourth.
Having run strongly through the middle stint of a three-stop strategy, Vettel made full use of fresh tyres in the final stages to pass both Ferraris and Bottas, copyrighting a fine passing move at the Turn Ten hairpin in the process.
The result may still be a long way from what the quadruple champion has become accustomed too, but the battling drive proved the perfect response to those who once more have criticised him following a difficult start to F1's new era.
Having been overtaken by Vettel as he exited his final stop, home hero Alonso could at least take some solace from trumping team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at the last after the Ferrari pair adopted different strategies.
While Raikkonen, characteristically, went with a tyre-preserving two-stopper, Alonso went aggressive via an extra stop and it paid dividends after he passed his fellow World Champion with two laps to go after a thrilling battle through Turns One to Four.
Raikkonen then suffered the ignominy of being lapped by the runaway Mercedes pair - the starkest illustration yet of Ferrari's plight with the F14 T.
While still far adrift of where they finished 2013, Lotus are at least finally back on the up and Romain Grosjean registered their first points of 2014 with eighth place, despite appearing to lose straight-line speed power mid-way through the race when he was running in his grid spot of fifth.
For McLaren, however, Spain served as further evidence that their once-promising season is going backwards after Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen's 11th and 12th places respectively brought up their third consecutive race outside the points - the former champions' worst run since 2009.
Keeping the two MP4-29s out of the points were the fellow Mercedes-powered Force Indias, Sergio Perez scoring an important intra-team victory over Nico Hulkenberg on this occasion to finish ninth.
For the Mercedes works team, however, a fourth consecutive one-two means the team are now regularly achieving the rarest of things: Formula 1 perfection.