Shanghai (dpa) – World champion Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix from pole ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg on Sunday as Mercedes restored the Formula One pecking order after being beaten by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the previous race.
A mid-race spurt did the trick for Hamilton as he was never seriously under threat en route to his second season victory, a fourth in Shanghai and 35th overall – behind the safety car which came out with two laps left when Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso stopped on the track.
Rosberg placed second ahead of Vettel, and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, which confirmed that the famed Italian team appears the only possible challenger for Mercedes at this stage of the season.
Hamilton increased his lead atop the championship with 68 points after a “stellar weekend” (team radio). Vettel has 55 and Rosberg 51 from three races.
“It was great to have a smooth weekend,” Hamilton said. “It was about controlling the gap for me and saving tyres for when I needed them.”
Vettel had surprisingly won from Hamilton and Rosberg two weeks ago in Malaysia thanks to better tyre management in hot conditions but Mercedes rebounded well in cooler China, with Hamilton more than 10 seconds ahead of Vettel before the safety car was deployed.
“We’re happy with the gap to Ferrari. We have beaten them here after they won in Malaysia and it was a good important comeback,” Rosberg said.
The four-time champion Vettel acknowledged that Mercedes were too fast on hard tyres but continued his impressive start at Ferrari after a winter move from Red Bull by making the top three in each race – one podium more than the team had in the entire 2014 campaign.
“I’m very happy. It’s been three out of three podiums so it’s been good. Hopefully we will get a bit closer to challenging Mercedes,” Vettel said.
Hamilton won the start from pole by moving to his right immediately, leaving Rosberg no chance to pass. Vettel retained third while Raikkonen flew past the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in the first turns to move from sixth to fourth.
But Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, the only non-Mercedes driver to top a podium last year with three wins, seemingly had a technical problem and dropped from seventh on the grid to 16th.
He found himself in a train with team-mate Daniil Kvyat and the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in 14th to 17th place, still an unfamiliar sight to see the former champion teams so far back.
Once the leaders had pitted for the first time and – with the Ferraris moving closer – Rosberg said via team radio that Hamilton should speed up ahead of him because he himself could not draw closer as he would ruin his tyres.
Hamilton had seemingly just conserved tyres as he was soon on top speed again to open up a four-second gap by the time Rosberg pitted a second time in the 31st, one lap after Vettel’s second stop.
Hamilton’s surge decided the race for good as he was six seconds clear when he returned from his second stop in the 33rd.
The Briton complained about an overheating seat but kept his cool to win in 1 hour 39 minutes 42.008 seconds – after Verstappen’s car stopped on the start-finish straight which led to a sixth F1 race overall ending behind the safety car.
Pastor Maldonado of Lotus meanwhile almost fluffed entering the pit lane, then had a spin, and had Button drive into him, which ended the Venezuelan’s race.
Massa, Bottas, Romain Grosjean (Lotus), Felipe Nasr (Sauber), Ricciardo and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) were also in the points while Alonso came 12th and Button 13th.
The next race is just a week away, the April 19 Bahrain Grand Prix.