Lewis Hamilton barely broke sweat as he stormed away from everyone else to win in China, his third in a row. The Brit was followed by his team mate Nico Rosberg, a trend that looks set to stay for the early part of the season at least.
Fernando Alonso, who made his customary amazing start was the last driver on the podium, a welcomed result for the Italian team who have recently replaced their team principal, Stefano Domenicali, after a tricky start to the season.
The race finished under bizarre conditions, with the chequered flag waved a lap early by mistake. This meant the race results were taken from two laps earlier (due to the sporting regulations) although the only thing that this changed was a reversal of positions between Kobayashi and Bianchi, the former of whom overtook the Frenchman for 17th place on the penultimate lap.
Saturday was a wet occasion with torrents of water causing several surprises, the height of which saw both McLarens and Kimi Raikkonen knocked out in Q2. Lewis Hamilton took pole, 1.004 seconds ahead of Red Bull protege Daniel Ricciardo who is quickly proving to be a great match for Vettel.
Pastor Maldonado, who crashed in Practice, did not take part in qualifying, but was given permission by the Stewards to race. The Venezuelan had already been handed a 5-place grid penalty for a clumsy crash in Bahrain with Esteban Gutierrez, and so not partaking in Qualifying only solidified his 22nd-ness.
By Sunday morning the Chinese drizzle had disappeared, and the track was dry. At the start, Hamilton made a great getaway, but his team mate Rosberg, who started 4th, slipped back down the field. Being overcome by Alonso and Massa, the German was wide into turn 1, and clipped Valtteri Bottas, although neither sustained damage. The other Williams came into contact, this time with Alonso. The former team mates took advantage of China’s wide straights and lined up three abreast with Sebastian Vettel, but the ex-Ferrari duo got too close and it momentarily sent Felipe airborne. Again, there was no damage.
What did damage Massa’s race was a dodgy pit stop on Lap 11. He was in a fight with Hulkenberg and Bottas, leading them in the fight for 6th place, but when he came in, the team did not have the correct tyres ready for him. Then when the right rubber was brought out, the left-rear wheel wouldn’t secure on the wheel hub correctly. He was in the pit lane for over a minute, and that of course dropped him to the back of the field.
The two Red Bull drivers were in a fight of their own for the top-end of the points too. Vettel was ahead of Ricciardo who had pitted two laps later, so had the fresher tyres. He was also fortunate not to have to scrap with Nico Rosberg for 3rd place, and so on Lap 24, Daniel made the move, despite a little stubbornness from The Weltmeister:
Guillaume Rocquelin (Vettel’s race engineer) = GR
GR “Sebastian, let Daniel through, he is faster.”
VET “What tyres is he on?”
GR “Prime, he pitted two laps later than you.”
VET “Tough luck.”
Aside from Rosberg climbing through the Red Bulls and Alonso to take 2nd place, little action happened towards the end of the race.
The last lap saw one overtake, Kamui Kobayashi shot past Jules Bianchi to steal 17th place, however it did not stand, as the chequered flag was bizarrely waved for race winner Lewis Hamilton a lap early. The strang incident didn’t changed any of the points-paying positions, and it was only the Caterham-Marussia battle that was affected, Kobayashi being classified in 18th as the regulations state that this event means the race positions are taken from two laps before the end.
1) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
2) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
3) F Alonso, Ferrari
4) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
5) S Vettel, Red Bull Racing
6) N Hulkenberg, Force India
7) V Bottas, Williams
8) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
9) S Perez, Force India
10) D Kvyat, Toro Rosso
11) J Button, McLaren
12) JE Vergne, Toro Rosso
13) K Magnussen, McLaren
14) P Maldonado, Lotus
15) F Massa, Williams
16) E Gutierrez, Sauber
17) J Bianchi, Marussia
18) K Kobayashi, Caterham
19) M Chilton, Marussia
20) M Ericsson, Caterham
R Grosjean, Lotus (Gearbox)
A Sutil, Sauber (Engine)
The result sees Hamilton slash Rosberg’s lead to just 4 points, with Nico on 79 and Lewis on 75. Their nearest challenger is Alonso, who has 41 points, followed by Hulkenberg on 36, and Vettel on 33. The constructors’ already looks like a done deal, with Mercedes on 154 – 97 points ahead of Red Bull in just four races. Red Bull have 57, inching ahead of Force India on 54, and Ferrari who have 52.
The next race is at Montmelo Circuit in Spain, the first of the European season.