World Champion Sebastian Vettel chalked up his fourth win in five races Sunday, beating Lewis Hamilton by just 0.6 seconds, while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso trailed behind in fifth place.
REUTERS - Red Bull's Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel roared to his fourth win in five races on Sunday in a Spanish Grand Prix that ripped up the track's reputation for predictable processions.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton finished second, just 0.6 seconds behind, after harrying the 23-year-old German over the closing laps in what turned out to be a much more closely-fought contest than the forecast duel of dominant Red Bulls.
"That was crazy, crazy man, you were coming, coming, coming," Vettel told Hamilton before the podium Champagne celebrations.
"People were saying today would be a boring race," Vettel added later. "But at turn one these people got very small and silent. At the end Lewis and I were sliding like crazy, finding our way on the limit of our tyres."
Hamilton's team mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button was third, beating Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber for the final place on the podium and helped by a three-stop strategy to the others' four after an "absolute disaster" of an opening lap.
A stewards's announcement some 19 minutes after the end of the race that Hamilton, Button and Webber were all under investigation for failing to slow for yellow flags ended in nothing more than a reprimand.
"As the race went on we clearly had some serious pace but it was very, very tough to get past Sebastian in the end," said Hamilton.
The rest of the field, including Ferrari's fifth placed local hero Fernando Alonso and sixth placed Michael Schumacher, were lapped as the Pirelli tyres made the gulf between the top two teams and the rest even more glaring.
"The fact that everybody behind Red Bull and Mercedes was lapped today shows that there is a lot of work to do for the rest of the field," said Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug.
Vettel stretched his championship lead over Hamilton, the 2008 champion and only man to have beaten him so far this year, to 41 points.
Even if Vettel's 14th career victory came as no surprise it still marked the first time since 2000, when Finland's Mika Hakkinen won for McLaren, that the victory went to someone other than the driver starting on pole.
At a circuit previously renowed for scant overtaking or excitement, with just 10 moves in last year's race, the new tyres, driver operated rear wings (DRS) and KERS systems transformed the landscape.
"Going into the last 10 laps it felt a bit like China, with the tyres going away," said Vettel, referring to the Shanghai race where he finished second after Hamilton reeled him in with better strategy.
"I was praying the same thing would happen to Lewis, as he was catching up."
The German also had to contend with a malfunctioning KERS, the system that gives a brief power boost at the push of a button, as Hamilton loomed in his mirrors.
"When they told me about 10 laps from the end not to use KERS, it wasn't the best message I was hoping for. I knew that is what McLaren were waiting for. Some laps to the end I had KERS again which was quite useful."
Webber had taken his first pole of the season on Saturday, with Vettel alongside on the front row, but paid the price for a poor start with Alonso sending the 78,000 strong Circuit de Catalunya crowd into raptures by seizing the early lead.
The joy did not last however, with Alonso making his fourth pitstop with 26 laps still to go and having to finish the race on the slower, hard tyres because he had nothing else left. His Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa was one of three retirements.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali said the car just could not work with the tyres, with Alonso losing some three seconds a lap on the hard tyres.
"We had the margins to do another pitstop, we were 27 seconds in front of Michael," said the Italian. "So if we had another set of tyres...we were looking around but nothing."
Germany's Nico Rosberg was seventh for Mercedes with compatriot Nick Heidfeld eight for Renault after starting at the back of the grid.
Mexican rookie Sergio Perez scored his first points in F1, after being disqualified in Australia, with ninth for Sauber ahead of Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi.
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