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.
|Yedlin knee injury not serious, Newcastle confirm|
|Bartomeu satisfied with Barcelona squad amid Pogba links|
|BREAKING NEWS: Kevin De Bruyne suffers knee injury|
|Steelers QB Roethlisberger in concussion protocol|
|Kehrer to PSG not complete, say Schalke|
|Hopoate handed 10-year ban from NSWRL|
|Is this worth it? Injuries prompted Te´o to consider future|
|Croatia hero Subasic retires from international football|
|Iniesta makes it two in two for Vissel Kobe|
|Chelsea send out defensive duo on loan|
|Zaha 2023: Palace star means more than goals|
|De Jong set for Ajax stay despite Barcelona interest|
|Serena ´still at the very beginning´ of comeback|
|Ajax can benefit from Mourinho approach - Blind|
|Foley not convinced by reports All Blacks will drop Barrett|
|Zaha signs Crystal Palace extension|
|Burnley midfielder O´Neill makes A-League loan move|
|Godin yet to renew with Atletico Madrid amid transfer interest|
|Federer ´feeling better every day´ after Wimbledon disappointment|
|Kante comfortable with surprise new Chelsea role|
|Rugby Championship 2018: The numbers behind New Zealand´s dominance|
|LaLiga 2018-19: Bale ready to be Madrid´s shining light after five years in Ronaldo´s shadow|
|Rodgers unimpressed by absence of ´fit´ Boyata|
|Braves´ Acuna Jr. has arrived as a true MLB star|
|LA Galaxy 2 Colorado Rapids 2: Jackson´s deflected strike sees spoils shared|
|Victory offer postponed retirement, says Honda|
|Kyrgios forgets tennis shoes, Federer back in business|
|Williams knocked out as Garcia and Pliskova advance in Ohio|
|Kvitova sees off Serena in Cincinnati classic|
|Federer dispatches Gojowczyk in Cincinnati|
|Stead succeeds Hesson as New Zealand coach|
|Duminy encouraged despite South Africa´s mixed results|
|Thiem withdraws from Cincinnati Masters|
|Edwards joins Ospreys in consultancy role|
|Former Arsenal and Barcelona player Song joins Sion|
|I´m very happy with what I have - Spalletti not desperate for Modric|
|Roethlisberger evaluated for concussion after practice|
|Brady ´absolutely´ expects to face Eagles|
|Rugby Championship 2018: Reasons for optimism and concern for Australia|
|Wentz ´gonna be close´ for Eagles opener|
|Cleveland ´victory fridges´ to unlock beer if Browns finally win|
|England´s Watson suffers injury setback|
|Mariners reinstate Cano after 80-game suspension|
|AEK Athens 2 Celtic 1 (3-2 agg): Rodgers´ men dumped out of Champions League|
|Alonso to leave F1: Paddock reacts to Spaniard´s exit|
|Roma sign midfielder N´Zonzi from Sevilla|
|Alonso to leave F1: Who will replace Fernando at McLaren?|
|Extraordinary Zidane is in Real Madrid´s past - Lopetegui|
|Alonso to leave F1: Then and now - how the grid, teams and calendar have changed since 2001|
|Wawrinka and Azarenka receive US Open wildcards|
|Parma sign Napoli pair Inglese and Grassi on loan|
|Sandakan castles Proteas before Sri Lanka squeeze home|
|Ronaldo sale won´t stop Real Madrid winning - Ramos|
|Predators sign Ryan Ellis to eight-year, $50M contract|
|Curran, Woakes, Rashid - who makes way for Stokes in England´s Test XI?|
|Griezmann well positioned for Ballon d´Or, says Simeone|
|Criscito: I was on Genoa bridge shortly before collapse|
|Alonso to leave F1: How the Spaniard´s numbers stack up to the greats|
|Rookie LB Roquan Smith finally signs Bears contract|
|De Villiers enjoying relief from ´unbearable´ Proteas pressure|
|Fernando Alonso to leave F1|
|Spalletti extends Inter contract|
|Godin, Koke, Griezmann and Juanfran named Atletico Madrid captains|
|Ronaldo out of hospital after illness|
|Fury: Beating Wilder and Joshua ´very easy´|
|Dickinson retires to take up academy coaching role|
|Cricket the ´sole focus´ for Stokes as he returns to England squad|
|Cheryshev moves to Valencia on loan|
|Mandzukic retires from Croatia duty after World Cup|
|Ben Stokes found not guilty of affray|