Mercedes appear to have finally hit their stride in the 2018 Formula One season after Lewis Hamilton claimed a comfortable victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The defending world champion had to wait until the fourth round in Azerbaijan to pick up his first win of the campaign, but an imperious drive in Barcelona made it back-to-back victories for the Briton.
After making his pole position stick into turn one and waiting patiently during a six-lap period under the safety car, Hamilton rapidly stretched his lead over championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who had overtaken Valtteri Bottas at the start.
The safety car's appearance was brought about by a huge crash that saw Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly wiped out by a spinning Romain Grosjean on the opening lap.
With Vettel some way off Hamilton's pace and Kimi Raikkonen forced into retirement by an engine problem, the biggest challenge to Mercedes threatened to come from Red Bull’s decision to adopt a one-stop strategy.
But Mercedes, who pitted some 10 laps earlier than the two Red Bulls, managed their tyres to the finish, while Vettel's hopes were futher dashed by his own slow second stop under the virtual safety car.
That left the German to settle for fourth, as Bottas and Max Verstappen joined Hamilton on the podium.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth, ahead of Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.
The result sees Hamilton stretch his lead at the top of the drivers' standings to 17 points after five races.
HAMILTON HITTING FORM
The downbeat early-season mood at Mercedes is slowly being shaken off as they take their customary position at the top of the standings.
Hamilton becomes the first driver since Michael Schumacher – who won the race four times in succession from 2001 to 2004 – to claim back-to-back victories in Barcelona.
"Today, the car and myself – I felt that synergy today that I hadn't been feeling all year, so it's a good feeling," said Hamilton.
"This is when we're going to start to try continuing to apply the pressure.
"A one-two for the team. I hope we can continue."
Bottas claimed his first Spanish Grand Prix podium, while Verstappen’s race was compromised late on when he damaged his front wing running into the back of Williams’ Lance Stroll.
The safety car has helped add to the drama of the early part of the 2018 season and its appearance early in Sunday's race means it has been used in the opening five races of a championship for the first time.
But it was the virtual safety car that arguably had the biggest say in Sunday’s race.
Ferrari acted quickly to bring in Vettel as they looked to make gains with the rest of the field speed-restricted, but he was held up by Sergio Perez in the pit lane, limiting the benefits of the move and leaving the 30-year-old to miss out on the podium.
Later reports suggested Vettel may have been forced into the stop due to an issue with his rear tyres.
MORE TEARS FOR YOUNG KIMI FAN?
Last year's Spanish Grand Prix was where a young Kimi Raikkonen fan was famously caught on camera crying his eyes out following the Finn’s early retirement.
The boy was later invited into the paddock to meet his hero in a bid to cheer him up.
However, as a guest of F1 at this year's race, he will once again have been left downhearted after the 2007 world champion was forced out with an engine issue after 25 laps.
IN THE POINTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes): +20.593s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull): +26.873s
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari): +27.584s
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault): +50.058s
6. Kevin Magnussen (Haas): +1 lap
7. Carlos Sainz (Renault): +1 lap
8. Fernando Alonso (McLaren): +1 lap
9. Sergio Perez (Force India): +2 laps
10. Charles Leclerc (Sauber): +2 laps
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 95
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 78
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 58
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 48
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 47
1. Mercedes 153
2. Ferrari 126
3. Red Bull 80
4. Renault 41
5. McLaren 40
Formula One's next stop will be its most iconic, as the season arrives on the streets of Monte Carlo on May 27.
|DeGrom strikes out 12, Mets hit 5 homers in win over Yankees|
|Djokovic needs nine MPs as Murray crashes out|
|Murray unsure of US Open readiness after Cincinnati exit|
|Van Dijk: Alisson making difference at Liverpool|
|Johnson saves eight MPs but Djokovic prevails|
|Federer anxious ahead of Cincinnati comeback|
|Tevez relishing Messi reunion|
|Ronaldo arrival has taken Juve forward in Europe – Nedved|
|Serena steamrolls Gavrilova in Cincinnati return|
|Packers QB Rodgers doesn´t regret criticising team-mates|
|Indians OF Martin recovering from life-threatening bacterial infection|
|Shoulder injury sends Royals starter Duffy to DL|
|Yankees place Sabathia on DL with right knee inflammation|
|Aubameyang urges Emery to capitalise on his ´spark´ with Lacazette|
|Anderson can play until he´s 40, says Bayliss|
|Keita living childhood dream after securing Inter switch|
|49ers to sign veteran RB Alfred Morris, Kyle Shanahan says|
|Arnaiz leaves Barcelona for Leganes in €5m deal|
|Tottenham´s move to new stadium delayed|
|Roosters-bound Hall suffers ACL injury|
|Murray suffers Cincinnati defeat to Pouille|
|No Cech mate - Arsenal goalkeeper hits back at Bayer Leverkusen|
|Halep first to seal WTA Finals spot|
|Veteran Carmelo Anthony pens one-year Rockets deal|
|Runners and Ryders: Poulter closes in on Team Europe spot|
|Gameiro presented by Valencia after departing Atletico Madrid|
|World Cup winner Kimpembe extends PSG contract to 2023|
|AC Milan send Locatelli on loan to Sassuolo|
|South Africa´s Etzebeth set for return from injury|
|Rafinha ´very likely´ to stay at Barcelona|
|No dual Ryder Cup role should Woods make USA team, says Furyk|
|Inter complete Keita deal|
|David Silva announces retirement from international football|
|Modric in Real Madrid´s UEFA Super Cup squad amid Inter links|
|Neville hopes Shaw is on to something special after first United goal|
|Unchanged England waiting on Stokes verdict|
|Yates brothers to race Vuelta together|
|Kalinic explains why he rejected World Cup medal|
|Furyk excited to see Woods´ return to form|
|Liverpool ignoring media´s champions chat, says Van Dijk|
|Suspended Smith replaces Kohli as top-ranked Test batsman|
|Tiger fanfare inevitable but it´s time to recognise Koepka as the star he is|
|Dier: Tottenham will shut up transfer critics|
|Fernandes leaves West Ham for Fiorentina on loan|
|´No chance´ Willian would have stayed at Chelsea under Conte|
|Vettel confident he can catch Hamilton|
|Cane dismisses talk of All Blacks limiting haka|
|Zaha promises Palace commitment as contract talks continue|
|Real Madrid defender Odriozola to miss UEFA Super Cup|
|All Blacks wary of Pocock threat|
|Bayern Munich confirm no ligament damage for Alaba|
|Nicklaus hails Koepka´s great year after US PGA triumph|
|Keita ready to ´explode´ at Inter|
|Halep: Stephens makes me a better player|
|Manchester United loan Wilson to Aberdeen|
|Beale backs Hodge to start in Rugby Championship opener|
|Bakayoko arrives for AC Milan medical|
|Australia favourites for Rugby Championship opener, says Hansen|
|Muller hails Lewandowski: That´s why Bayern won´t let him go|
|Allegri eyes Champions League after watching Ronaldo score first Juventus goal|
|LaLiga 2018-19: Barcelona or Real Madrid - whose close-season transfers have been better?|
|Fekir almost certain to stay at Lyon, says Aulas|
|Tuchel unaware of PSG deal for Kehrer|
|MLS Review: Rooney´s heroics lift DC, Villa inspires NYC|
|Sale strikes out 12 in Red Sox´s win over Orioles|
|Scott buoyed by Bellerive display|
|Edmund, Mannarino win Cincinnati openers|
|WATCH: Rooney saves open goal before setting up last-gasp winner|
|Kovac praises three-goal Lewandowski but thanks Heynckes|
|Nadal withdraws from Cincinnati Masters|