Lewis Hamilton dominated amid changeable weather conditions to win the Chinese Grand Prix and draw level with Sebastien Vettel at the top of the standings, who finished second ahead of a resurgent Max Verstappen.
Light rain showers in the build-up to the event threw teams a curve ball, invalidating the regulation that mandates teams to use two different compounds of dry weather tyre and forcing everybody – aside from Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso – onto the intermediates. Sainz boldly elected to take the super-softs, which looked to be a possible masterstroke – for about thirty seconds.
The leaders made level starts, with Hamilton taking an early advantage ahead of Vettel and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, whilst wet weather specialist elect Verstappen hauled his Red Bull from it’s lowly 16th place starting slot after mechanical gremlins in qualifying into seventh.
In truth, Hamilton’s dominance had its foundations in luck. When Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll clashed at Turn 10, taking the latter out of the race via the gravel trap, the ensuing virtual safety car allowed Vettel to stop and switch onto soft tyres on an ever-drying surface, dropping him to sixth. With the five in front left to stop, it seemed certain the four-time champion would inherit the race lead, but a crash for Sauber’s Antonio Giovanazzi on the pit straight upgraded the stoppage to a full safety car scenario, giving the quintet a large enough window to stop and retain their advantage.
Sauber’s Giovanazzi, who substituted for the injured Pascal Wehrlein again this weekend in Shanghai, appeared to move laterally across the circuit heading down the start/finish straight, before making contact with a wet area of the circuit beneath the shadow of the grandstand above, causing the car to snap right into the pit wall.
The real beneficiary was Daniel Ricciardo – now up to P2 after Bottas spun behind the safety car on cold tyres – though he now proved to be the cork in the bottle as far as challenging Hamilton was concerned. Bold overtaking from Verstappen promoted him above the Ferrari pairing to third, before he relieved Ricciardo of second spot and set about chasing Hamilton – a task he would find rather more difficult. Ricciardo, meanwhile, was left to fend off Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen – with the same level of success.
Vettel did manage to pressure a rare mistake from Verstappen – the Dutchman locked up into the penultimate hairpin under heavy braking and ran wide, handing Vettel second.
From there, Hamilton held control of the race at arms length despite the best efforts of Vettel to haul himself level in the championship. Ricciardo eventually bested Raikkonen for fourth, with a recovering Bottas, Sainz Jr, Kevin Magnussen, Perez and the sister Force India of Esteban Ocon rounding out the top ten.
“My pole lap put me in a great position and then the start was just fantastic,” said Hamilton.
“During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the Safety Car the speed was low and the tyres were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I’m just grateful that I didn’t.”
“In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about. In the future there will be times when we don’t have a Safety Car and we won’t have that gap. I’m excited for that.”
“It’s very close and there were times when it was hard to match Sebastian. It has been a fantastic weekend and I’m so grateful for the effort the team has put in for us to be where we are today.”
CHINESE GRAND PRIX – RESULT (56 LAPS)
|1||Lewis HAMILTON||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||1:37:36.160s|
|2||Sebastien VETTEL||Scuderia Ferrari||+6.250s|
|3||Max VERSTAPPEN||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||+45.192s|
|4||Daniel RICCIARDO||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||+46.035s|
|5||Kimi RAIKKONEN||Scuderia Ferrari||+48.076s|
|6||Valtteri BOTTAS||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||+48.808s|
|7||Carlos SAINZ JR||Scuderia Toro Rosso||+1:12.893s|
|8||Kevin MAGNUSSEN||Haas F1 Team||+1 lap|
|9||Sergio PEREZ||Sahara Force India F1 Team||+1 lap|
|10||Esteban OCON||Sahara Force India F1 Team||+1 lap|
|11||Romain GROSJEAN||Haas F1 Team||+1 lap|
|12||Nico HULKENBERG||Renault Sport Formula One Team||+1 lap|
|13||Jolyon PALMER||Renault Sport Formula One Team||+1 lap|
|14||Felipe MASSA||Williams Martini Racing||+1 lap|
|15||Marcus ERICSSON||Sauber F1 Team||+1 lap|
|17||Daniil KVYAT||Scuderia Toro Rosso||Retired|
|19||Antonio GIOVANAZZI||Sauber F1 Team||Retired|
|20||Lance STROLL||Williams Martini Racing||Retired|