MONTMELO, Spain — Lewis Hamilton had no problems with his tires this time as he coasted to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, extending his championship lead to 37 points and clinching an 88th career victory to move within three of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record.

 

The talk before the race was whether Mercedes’ tires would be vulnerable in the searing summer heat of Spain, after experiencing problems in the last two races at Silverstone. But there were no such issues as Hamilton finished a sizable 24 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen — who has eight podiums in the past nine races stretching back to last season.

“I was just in a daze out there. I felt really good … I didn’t even know it was the last lap I was so zoned in,” a jubilant Hamilton said. “It was a surprise because we had that problem with the tires last weekend, but we seem to have understood it.” Valtteri Bottas placed third to fall six points behind second-place Verstappen in the standings.

The winding 4.7-kilometer ( 2.9-mile) Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with its combination of slow and fast corners, is one of the hardest for overtaking.

After narrowly securing a record-extending 92nd career pole position Hamilton made a strong start on the long straight to the first corner. But Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll — who jumped from fifth to third with a fine move on Bottas’ right flank.

Track temperatures on the circuit were around 50 degrees C (122 F) and Mercedes was concerned about catching too much sun.

“These black overalls are hot,” Bottas said during the race, throwing in an expletive for emphasis.

It was another miserable day for struggling Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel seventh and Charles Leclerc abandoning after his engine cut out on track. “I don’t know why the car switched off completely,” Leclerc said. He crawled into the pits but the mechanics seemed at a loss to figure out what was wrong and his race was over on lap 41.

Had he stayed out on track, he would likely have been lapped by Hamilton just as Vettel was.

Hamilton set the pace with a confident start.

While he and Verstappen swapped fastest lap times, Bottas was stuck behind Stroll for four laps.

It was Verstappen — and not Hamilton or Bottas — who was complaining about his rear tires at this point and by lap 20 of 66 he said there was “nothing left” in them.

The ice-cool Dutchman was getting flustered.

“Do you want me to repeat it again?” he shouted moments later on his radio, using an expletive. “I’m losing so much time.” Finally, his team brought him in for new tires on lap 22, by which time he was nearly 10 seconds behind Hamilton and only just ahead of Bottas.

Hamilton and Bottas pitted for new tires on the next lap. But a blip attaching the rear lift cost Hamilton two seconds and he emerged about four seconds clear of Verstappen, who told off his engineer for talking too much about Mercedes.

“Let’s focus on our race first,” he snapped.

Verstappen was given a brief glimmer of hope as Hamilton’s tire was showing signs of blistering only six laps after being fitted.

But Hamilton was soon pulling away again.

After Hamilton made his second change he was about 10 seconds ahead of Verstappen with 15 laps left and the gap kept growing.

Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who missed the last two races as he recovered from the coronavirus, finished in fourth place ahead of Stroll with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. in sixth.

Vettel is having his worst start since 2008 but drove very well with just the one tire stop.

It proved the right choice but came after a tense exchange between Vettel and his race engineer.

“What do you think about going to the end on these tires?” his engineer asked.

After barking out an expletive, Vettel replied: “I asked you this before!” Minutes earlier, Vettel had asked his team whether they thought he could go to the end on the same tires — and got no response.

His final season with Ferrari could prove to be long and arduous while Hamilton is odds-on to end it with a seventh title to equal Schumacher — Vettel’s childhood hero.

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