Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix thanks to the help of his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who allowed him to execute a pit bet.
In the end, he overtook championship rival Max Verstappen with just six laps to go for the victory in a run-down race.
Hamilton looked like he missed his chance at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya when he was left out on old rubber for four laps longer than his rival.
But Mercedes surprised Red Bull, stopping Hamilton for the second time, leaving the 24-lap world champion to reverse a 22-second deficit.
A flawless Hamilton delivered with expert feedback to extend his lead over Verstappen to 14 points. Valtteri Bottas finished third for Mercedes ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.
“It was a long way to go, but a good bet and a very good strategy on the part of the team,” he said.
“A single stop is very difficult to achieve and I was about to have a chance to pass it before I fight for the second time. I was in conflict but I did what the team asked and it is because there is great confidence. It’s a remarkable job from everyone on this team. What a day.”
Hamilton started the race on his back after losing his lead on the opening turn.
Hamilton wasn’t exactly slow on his feet, but the world champion gave his title rival an opening at the first corner and Verstappen didn’t need a second invite.
Bolder and braver on the brakes, Verstappen launched his Red Bull inside Hamilton’s Mercedes. Hamilton turned to the right-hander and came within millimeters of his contact with Verstappen before conceding the position.
A safety car was deployed on lap nine after Yuki Tsunoda crashed at Turn 10, but when the race resumed two laps later, Verstappen left Hamilton behind to retain the lead.
From there Hamilton was on his heels with the Englishman just half a second behind when Verstappen was the first to blink, stopping for tires on lap 24.
But the Red Bull crew were slow to bolt Verstappen’s left rear tire to their car, appearing to hand the initiative to Hamilton and Mercedes.
However, Hamilton stayed on the sidelines for four more laps and with Verstappen, on fresh rubber, turning faster than his rival, any world champion advantage was lost.
Indeed, when Hamilton came out of the pits on lap 28, he was six seconds behind. Hamilton was then on a charge, and within a few laps he was back on the Dutchman’s gearbox.
But with some overtaking on this one of the toughest track on the calendar, Mercedes surprised by calling Hamilton for a second stop with 24 laps to go.
“How far should I catch up?” said a breathless Hamilton.
“Currently 22 seconds,” replied race engineer Pete Bonnington. “We’ve done it before,” he added, referring to the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix when Hamilton bet on a second pit stop and passed Verstappen for the lead with just three laps to go.
Verstappen, who now had to heal his rubber to the flag, was starting to feel the pressure. “I don’t see how we’re going to get to the end,” he said with 18 laps to go.
Bottas, out of sync with Hamilton, and in second place, was then put out of reach of his teammate.
“Lewis is fighting for the win, we have a different strategy than him,” said the Finn in the 50th round. A round later, Bottas was urged, “Don’t hold back Lewis.”
Bottas has so often obeyed team orders to the letter, but he didn’t make it easy for Hamilton, with the Englishman having to make his way through Turn 10 to left-handed and arguably wasting time in his pursuit of Verstappen.
But much to the relief of the team manager, Toto Wolff Hamilton did it, and with 14 laps to go he was 10 seconds behind Verstappen.
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At the start of lap 59 Verstappen was just 1.5 seconds ahead and by lap 60 Hamilton was within striking range as they descended the pit straight.
Hamilton followed Verstappen at over 200 mph before jumping to the left of his helpless rival and circling the outside for the 98th victory of his superb career.
“That’s what we mean, Lewis,” Bonnington said over the radio. “Good work.” Wolff threw his arms in the air as his star pilot made a brilliant comeback.
Verstappen opposed the next time around to take a set of new tires before claiming a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race.
Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth for McLaren, with teammate Lando Norris eighth. Carlos Sainz divided the McLaren drivers by finishing seventh.