But Lando Norris’ excellent qualifying display yesterday was immediately undone when he tagged the rear of Hamilton’s car in Turn 2, resulting in his McLaren picking up damage and requiring a change of front wing.
The British pair’s incident was Lance Stroll’s gain as the lead Aston Martin profited to gain a place from the wounded Norris before diving opportunistically down the inside of Hamilton into the downhill left-hand hairpin at Turn 5 to seize third position.
While Hamilton was busy getting caught up in contact at the front, team-mate George Russell made a strong getaway to rise from 12th to seventh, making that sixth when he blasted past Alonso’s Aston Martin.
A carbon copy move between the sister cars would swiftly follow as Hamilton regained the place he lost to Stroll on the first lap with a clean move around the outside into Turn 1.
Russell’s impressive early fightback gathered yet more momentum when the one-time F1 race winner swooped past Esteban Ocon to propel his Mercedes into the top five.
Sergio Perez, aiming to recover from a horrid qualifying display, had not enjoyed quite the same surging start as the two Mercedes’, but the Mexican was soon on the charge to pull unchallenged overtakes into Turn 1 on both Oscar Piastri Nico Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg’s struggles continued as Yuki Tsunoda and Piastri proceeded to shuffle him further down the order, with Haas opting to bring the German in shortly after to fit a new set of medium tyres to his VF-23.
With tyre degradation expectedly high around the Barcelona circuit, the benefit of executing an undercut strategy was seen when Hulkenberg produced the fastest race lap shortly after his stop.
That unsurprisingly invited several other teams to stop its drivers, allowing Charles Leclerc, who had started on the hard tyre from the pit lane, to rise into the top 10.
Meanwhile, Sainz in the other Ferrari began to come under increasing pressure from a lurking Hamilton, prompting the Scuderia to respond by pitting him at the end of Lap 15.
Although Sainz came out directly behind Leclerc, the Monegasque racer obliged with an instant instruction to let his team-mate pass to aid his scrap with Hamilton for a net second place in the race.
As the Ferrari clawed its way through the gaggle of drivers yet to switch from their starting rubber, promisingly for Mercedes, Hamilton and Russell reported satisfaction with the state of their own tyres.
Mercedes eventually called Hamilton in on Lap 24, followed by Russell a lap later, with Sainz passing both to resume in third place once Perez also encountered a visit to the pits for the first time not long after.
Sainz wouldn’t hold second for long, however, as Hamilton made use of his 10-lap fresher rubber to rapidly close and pass the defenceless Ferrari into Turn 1.
Verstappen had not featured on the race broadcast since a robust defence of his lead at the very start – but the reigning World Champion was finally spotted swapping his medium tyres for a set of the hard compound a few laps short of half distance.
Having overtaken Stroll comfortably, Russell reeled off a series of lightning laps in his bid to claw his way onto the podium at the expense of Sainz, even ensuring over the radio that he had not mistaken the beads of sweat created by his relentless pursuit of the Ferrari for the threat of rain arriving.
Several laps after his team-mate Russell manoeuvered his Mercedes into third, leaving Sainz to turn his attention to keeping Perez at bay. Ferrari reacted by ensuring its lead driver would not be undercut by the secondary Red Bull, with both drivers stopping for a set of hards to run to the end.
Fernando Alonso had endured a muted afternoon on home soil but provided the Spanish faithful with something to shout about when he breezed by Zhou Guanyu and Tsunoda across successive laps. The veteran driver then survived a late defence by ex-team-mate Ocon to elevate his Aston Martin into seventh place.
Having fulfilled the mandatory order of using two separate tyre compounds, Perez had opened up the potential to execute a one-stop strategy. However, Red Bull abandoned that idea when it became clear that Russell, who had already stopped for a second time, was catching at an alarming rate.
Both Hamilton and Verstappen took advantage of the luxury afforded to them of pitting for soft tyres without relinquishing a position, as Perez demoted Sainz further down the order to fifth.
Zhou Guanyu was left incensed by a stern defence from Tsunoda into Turn 1 that forced the Alfa Romeo to avoid contact, earning the AlphaTauri man a five-second time penalty that would transpire to drop him outside of the points places by the end.
Verstappen rounded the final corner at the end of 66 laps to coast to the chequered flag for the third time in Barcelona, ahead of the Mercedes duo a long way behind.
Behind the podium trio, Perez came up short in his pursuit of the top-three finish he was targeting amid another tough weekend on his side of the Red Bull garage.
Even with the introduction of a revised package for this weekend, Ferrari’s troubles on race day continued to prolong Sainz’s wait for a podium appearance in 2023.
The two Aston Martins trailed behind the top five, Stroll leading Alonso home in sixth and seventh respectively.
Ocon was unable to replicate his Monaco heroics, but the Frenchman amassed another top-10 finish to classify eighth. With Tsunoda’s penalty applied, Pierre Gasly wound up 10th, the Alpine duo sandwiched by Zhou to round out the points places.
A third straight victory – alongside the bonus point for the fastest lap – sees Verstappen open up a considerable 53-point advantage in the Drivers’ standings over Perez.
The next round of the World Championship marks a quick detour from Europe for a visit to the popular Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.