Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his auto during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, Sunday, May 14, 2017.
The Mercedes driver's 55th career win was hard-fought and tense, however, with Ferrari's Vettel seizing the lead at the start and in the hunt all the way to the finish as the tyre strategies played out.
Valtteri Bottas is the only driver to win a race this year other than Vettel and Hamilton. With two wins in four races, Vettel has a 13-point advantage over Hamilton. I had a really good start.
Behind him, Pascal Wehrlein was a tremendous seventh on the road for Sauber, the German making an unusual one-stop strategy work even if he picked up a five-second post-race penalty for a pit entry infringement.
Hamilton topped Q1 comfortably but in Q2, on the soft tyres with which they will start the race, he was only eight-hundredths quicker than Vettel.
When Bottas finally emerged onto the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, he rose to fourth - just behind teammate Lewis Hamilton - at 0.654 seconds off pacesetter Raikkonen.
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Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo finished third but 72 seconds behind Vettel.
Ten years into their respective F1 careers, Sunday's race provided the most compelling evidence yet that Hamilton and Vettel, winners of seven of the last nine drivers' titles, will go head-to-head for the crown for the first time this year.
On a near-perfect Spring day by the Mediterranean, Vettel made a masterful start to take the lead on the long drag into Turn One where Kimi Raikkonen collided with Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso made contact with Felipe Massa - the former two retiring on the first lap.
"It all started when I got hit, my auto jumped a bit and you can not control after that", Raikkonen said.
Running alongside one another into turn one as Vettel exited the pit-lane on lap 37, though Hamilton was forced to yield after briefly running off track, he collected himself to make a definitive pass for the lead on lap 44 of 66 before pulling away to the chequered flag.
Hamilton eventually stopped at the end of lap 21, taking on the more durable medium rubber, and exited the pit lane almost eight seconds adrift of Vettel.
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The two title rivals jousted after Vettel came out of his second pit stop just inches ahead of the hard-charging Hamilton.
Hamilton kept his foot in and tried to go around the outside but Vettel gave him the squeeze and they touched, with Hamilton taking to the run-off. He still secured the Swiss team's first points of the season with an impressive one-stop strategy, but dropped to eighth in the final classification behind Carlos Sainz.
While Massa had to pit with a puncture, Alonso continued in 11th but his pace faded later on before a late third stop for fresh softs allowed him to charge back to 12th - his first race finish of 2017.
"For most of the weekend we've had the edge on Ferrari but in Q3 they raised their game", he said. "I managed to stay ahead".
"It is going to be a tough race when you see how close it is between us".
"I was doing everything I could to stay in front, but as soon as I was alone he just flew past me down the straight, which was a shame".
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Mexican Sergio Perez finished fourth, his 15th successive points finish, for Force India with French rookie team mate Esteban Ocon fifth. He added his hopeful 12th-place finish to the leg of Spanish ham that a fan handed him over a barbed-wire fence while he was greeting his home supporters before the race.