Exhausted Lewis Hamilton hailed a thrilling tussle with Sebastian Vettel after beating his title rival to the chequered flag at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
Hamilton recovered from losing his lead to the German at the first corner to overtake Vettel on lap 44, and the Briton held on to win and cut Vettel’s advantage in the drivers’ championship to six points.
The Mercedes and Ferrari racers went wheel-to-wheel at times, including when Hamilton was forced off the track as he tried to pass Vettel, prompting him to complain about his opponent’s “dangerous” driving.
Hamilton appeared to have been rendered breathless by the gripping duel at one stage, the Englishman panting on the team radio, although he had recovered sufficiently to praise the contest after the race.
“That’s why we race. It was the rawest fight I can remember,” said the triple world champion.
“I don’t remember having a race like this for a long time where I was able to be on the limit as hard as I was and stay in a battle. It’s been a long, long, long time so I used up a lot of energy and I'm looking forward to lying down after this.”
Four-time title winner Vettel admitted he and Hamilton were “not best friends” but that he had “nothing to moan about” in the manner of defeat.
“I didn’t want him to win today; I wanted to win,” he said. “It didn’t work; I’m not happy with that. But at the same point you have to respect if other people do a good job and drove a good race.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took third place at the Circuit de Catalunya, ahead of Force India pair Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Brit Jolyon Palmer, of Renault, was 15th of 16 finishers.
How the race unfolded
Vettel seized the initiative by passing pole-sitter Hamilton into Turn One but Mercedes turned the tables by switching strategies and pitting their driver for the second time under the virtual safety car.
Ferrari quickly followed suit, but Hamilton had closed the gap and the pair bumped wheels when a startled Vettel re-emerged from the pit lane and held firm.
Hamilton would not be denied for long, however, and he got close enough to use a DRS boost and surge past Vettel with 22 laps to go.