DESPITE being hunted down by Lewis Hamilton and suffering from faulty KERS, Sebastian Vettel won the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 2010 world champion was put under intense pressure in the final part of the race as he was hounded by Hamilton’s McLaren around the tricky Barcelona circuit, but held on to take his fourth win of the season.
The race looked like a foregone conclusion as early as Friday after free practise when both Vettel and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber dominated the two 90-minute sessions, with the Australian coming out on top.
And going into qualifying, their pace was above and beyond any of their competitors, as Webber secured pole position over Vettel, who suffered a failure in his KERS in the final part of the session.
But as has been the case on so many occasions this season, the pace of the RB7 under race conditions was dramatically reduced and their rivals were able to get the jump on them at the start.
Home crowd hero Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari made a lightning start from fourth on the grid, using all of his boost in the run to the first corner leap-frogging both Red Bulls in the process.
But Barcelona is a notoriously difficult place to overtake and despite Vettel’s obvious pace behind Alonso, he couldn’t get close enough to pass the Ferrari, but overtook in the first round of pit-stops.
Webber though wasn’t so lucky as he remained behind Alonso, allowing Hamilton to pass the pair and take second place.
As Vettel and Hamilton romped away at the front, Webber struggled behind the Ferrari. The pair were quickly passed Jenson Button in the other McLaren on a different strategy before Webber finally made a move stick on Alonso and opening a huge gap to the slowing Spaniard.
Meanwhile at the front, Hamilton was keeping close tabs on Vettel - the gap never growing to more than three seconds as the McLaren looked a match for the Red Bull.
Radio messages to Vettel from the pitwall confirmed that his KERS wasn’t working properly, while Hamilton posted a series of quick laps to close the gap to less than a second.
Lap after lap, Vettel clung on to top spot, trading fast times with Hamilton as the laps quickly ticked away. The McLaren though enjoyed KERS and DRS on the long pit straight, but it wasn’t enough to get close enough to put a move on Vettel, though it was close enough to ensure the German didn’t have a moments rest.
But despite the pressure of an eager Hamilton and the failing boost button, Vettel held off his title rival to win the Spanish Grand Prix by 0.6 seconds.
Button was third, and pole sitter Webber finished a lonely fourth, a massive 48 seconds behind his team-mate.
After the race, Vettel was delighted to pick up his 14th win of his career under difficult circumstances.
He said: “At the beginning of the race I thought I had a good start, I didn’t understand where Fernando came from!
“We couldn’t get close enough to use the DRS, but we got him with the pit stop. It looked like the McLarens were very strong; they stayed out longer on a different strategy, which bought them up to second behind us.
“From then on I knew that it would be very, very close; going into the last 10 laps felt the same as in China.
“My tyres were going away from me and I prayed the same was happening to Lewis, as he was catching up and they seemed so much quicker, especially on the last sector.
“At the end of the straights he would be right in my mirrors, so you don’t know if you should defend or not.
“It was very close, but on the last two laps, I could make it stick. KERS was on and off, which meant I was playing around with brake distribution a lot.
“It’s quite a release when you cross the line and you know that you made it, so I’m very, very happy.”
Webber though was disappointed with his fourth place finish, lamenting Alonso’s pace in front for the margin between himself and the victors.
He said: “I don’t think my start was hideous, but Fernando got a phenomenal one. Obviously from then on it wasn’t the start we had planned and it was a bit of a chess game.
“People were covering each other’s pit stops and I really didn’t do much racing on track.
“At the end of the race I finished 40 seconds behind Lewis and Seb. It was an interesting day and shows how fine the margins are.
“We were frustrated by Fernando who seemed to pit every time I did! At certain stages I was quick and at others I wasn’t.”
The result in Spain means Vettel’s championship lead over Hamilton grew to 41 points after just five rounds, while Webber lost ground in third. Red Bull also extended their lead over McLaren to 47 points.