Sebastian Vettel claimed his fourth win of the season in an exciting Spanish Grand Prix which saw 77 pit stops and a variety of tyre strategies.
A charging Lewis Hamilton hounded the reigning world champion for the race lead in the closing stages, but ultimately had to settle for second, ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, who joins him on the podium.
Pole-sitter Mark Webber could finish only fourth after spending much of the race battling the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, who eventually finished fifth, a lap behind the leaders.
Michael Schumacher got his best result of the season in sixth, beating team-mate Nico Rosberg, who ended the afternoon in seventh.
Nick Heidfeld, who started from the back of the grid, finished eighth, whilst the two Sauber drivers picked up the final points.
Pirelli tyres, KERS and DRS would ensure that the race today was not won at the first corner, but a good start remained as important as ever. Of course, it was particularly vital today for Red Bull's rivals, who feared that Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel would head off into the distance should they be leading into the first corner.
Fears were allayed after 'Start of the Year' from Fernando Alonso, who brought euphoric cheers for the Spanish crowd as he jumped from fourth into the lead after the five lights went out. Sebastian Vettel passed team-mate Mark Webber off the start, and so the pole-sitter was down to third in a matter of metres.
Michael Schumacher, who started on the softer option tyre from tenth place, was quickly up to sixth with some cunning driving through Turns 2 and 3. Jenson Button plummeted from fifth on the grid down to tenth place and Pastor Maldonado had little joy too – he dropped from ninth to thirteenth on his first lap.
After five laps the top four – Alonso, Vettel, Webber and Lewis Hamilton – were separated by just 2.2 seconds, and all lapping at a similar pace. Vitaly Petrov was in a comfortable fifth place, but quickly dropping away from the race leaders.
Sebastian Vettel was first to pit, at the end of his ninth lap, suggesting a four stop strategy for the world champion. He fed back into a fierce battle between Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, who were arguing over eighth place. However, he was past Button within a matter of corners, and had overtaken Massa a few seconds later.
Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber pitted one lap later, coming out ahead of Nico Rosberg. Alonso came out just ahead of Vettel, whilst Webber ended up behind Massa, who had fallen behind Button by this point.
Lewis Hamilton responded on the following lap, and leapfrogged Webber during the stops. The order after the first pit stops was Alonso leading Vettel, Hamilton third, and Webber fourth. Button was running fifth until he pitted at the end of Lap 14. Button was quickly back up to fifth after his stop, with brand new option tyres allowing the Brit to drive straight past Schumacher, and then setting a new fastest lap.
Vettel dived back into the pits at the end of Lap 18 to get another set of soft tyres. 27% of the race distance gone, and the world champion was already onto his third set of Pirelli tyres.
Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber again responded to Vettel, releasing Lewis Hamilton into the lead of the grand prix. However, Vettel took the position from Alonso, and was now poised to take the lead when Hamilton got round to making his second stop.
Hamilton made that second stop at the end of Lap 24, taking on another set of soft tyres. He fed back in ahead of Alonso and Webber. Vettel now led the grand prix.
Alonso and Webber were back in the pits at the end of Lap 29, taking on hard tyres. The two were racing side by side down the pit lane but Alonso just managed to get out in front of the Red Bull driver.
Jenson Button, who was on a three stop strategy rather than the four stops of the rest of the front-runners, came in one lap later for his second stop of the afternoon.
At half distance, and after 46 pit stops, Vettel and Hamilton in first and second had both made two stops, Alonso and Webber, who were third and fourth, had made three stops, and Button in fifth had just done two.
Vettel made it three for him at the end of Lap 34 to take on his first set of the harder tyre. Hamilton followed him in one lap later for the same compound.
Button, who was still on the favourable soft tyre, got past Mark Webber on track, using a combination of KERS and DRS. He then went straight past Alonso to go up to third place. The three stop strategy was appearing to pay off at this stage in the race – but the Brit still had his stint on the harder tyre to come.
Alonso made stop number four at the end of Lap 39, and took on another set of soft tyres, needing them to do 26 laps. Webber did not feel the need to respond, and instead set the fastest first sector of the lap. Meanwhile, further down the grid, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were having an entertaining battle for sixth place, but Rosberg was unable to find a way past his more illustrious team-mate.
Schumacher pitted on Lap 41 for his third stop. Rosberg followed on the next lap, but Schumacher retained track position over his Mercedes team-mate.
Webber made his fourth stop eight laps later than Alonso, and took on some more soft tyres.
Vettel was in at the end of Lap 48 to make his fourth stop of the afternoon and was followed in by Jenson Button, pitting from third. Hamilton pitted a lap after Vettel, and came out just behind the race leader.
With sixteen laps to go, Vettel led Hamilton by 1.9 seconds. Button was a further 28.4 seconds down the road, and Webber was a further 4.7 seconds behind him in fourth.
Heikki Kovalainen retired on Lap 51 after having a minor collision with the tyre wall. He was running twentieth.
Lewis Hamilton had been steadily closing on Vettel and at the end of Lap 55 he was within range to use DRS. However, wily Vettel had saved his KERS so he could get a good run straight out of the final corner, and despite Hamilton using both DRS and KERS as he crossed the start/finish line, he could not get the leader into the first corner.
In subsequent laps, the same thing happened. Hamilton used the tricks available to him, but could not quite get close enough to trouble Vettel. There was a temperamental KERS in the Red Bull, but still Hamilton could not capitalise, and had to settle for second place.
Spanish Grand Prix 2011: Race Results
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||66||1:39:03.301||25||Report|
|2||3||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||66||+0.6 secs||18||Report|
|3||4||Jenson Button||McLaren||66||+35.6 secs||15||Report|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||66||+47.9 secs||12||Report|
|5||5||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||65||+1 Lap||10||Report|
|6||7||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||65||+1 Lap||8||Report|
|7||8||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||65||+1 Lap||6||Report|
|8||9||Nick Heidfeld||Renault||65||+1 Lap||4|
|9||17||Sergio Perez||Sauber||65||+1 Lap||2||Report|
|10||16||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber||65||+1 Lap||1||Report|
|11||10||Vitaly Petrov||Renault||65||+1 Lap|
|12||15||Paul di Resta||Force India||65||+1 Lap||Report|
|13||14||Adrian Sutil||Force India||65||+1 Lap||Report|
|14||18||Sebastien Buemi||Toro Rosso||65||+1 Lap||Report|
|15||12||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||65||+1 Lap||Report|
|16||19||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso||64||+2 Laps||Report|
|17||11||Rubens Barrichello||Williams||64||+2 Laps||Report|
|18||21||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus||64||+2 Laps||Report|
|19||24||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing||63||+3 Laps|
|20||25||Jerome D'Ambrosio||Virgin Racing||62||+4 Laps|
|21||22||Narain Karthikeyan||Hispania Racing||61||+5 Laps|
|Ret||6||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||58||+8 Laps||Report|
|Ret||20||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus||48||Accident||Report|
|Ret||23||Vitantonio Liuzzi||Hispania Racing||28||+38 Laps|