Lewis Hamilton has won a tense Chinese Grand Prix over teammate Nico Rosberg to stretch his lead in the drivers championship standings.
The race ended behind the safety car after Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso caught fire on the pit straight with three laps to go, but marshals were unable to bring the stricken car into the pits in time to resume the race.
“Fantastic job by the team,” said Hamilton. “It was great to have a smooth weekend and really dial in the car.
“Today was the effect of putting the car where I wanted it, and it was really about controlling the gap to Nico and using my tyres when I needed them.”
Nico Rosberg looked himself to be threatening to Hamilton’s second win of the season. The German complained to the pit wall that Hamilton was driving “too slowly” during the pair’s tyre management phase, but was unable to pass the Briton without ruining his own tyres.
“That’s the way it is,” said Rosberg, less moody than his post-qualifying appearance. “I gave it everything in the end.
“I tried to close the gap to Lewis, took some risks, and it didn’t pay off. I couldn’t manage to get any closer.”
Hamilton and Rosberg started from the front row, but their Mercedes team was wary of the threat posed by Ferrari and its more gentle use of the Pirelli tyres.
Pre-race expectations suggested Sebastian Vettel, who qualified third, would be able to jump the Mercedes pair during the second stint of the three-stint race when they would be forced to use the harder medium tyre while he used the soft.
Mercedes, however, matched Ferrari’s gamble and took a chance on an identical soft-soft-medium strategy, neutralising the prancing horse’s advantage.
Ferrari was unable to respond, its car still down on ultimate pace compared to the Mercedes, and Sebastian Vettel was left to hold onto his qualifying place and finish third.
“I think it was a good race,” said Vettel. “We were able to put some pressure on [Mercedes].
“We tried to put some more pressure by stopping fairly early for the last set of tyres, but I think [Mercedes] were fairly quick.
“Hopefully we can get a little close to challenge these guys.”
Kimi Räikkönen used a slightly modified strategy in an attempt to leap onto the podium. The Finn ran an elongated second stint in order to be on newer tyres than his teammate Vettel for the closing stage of the race.
Less than two seconds separated the two Ferrari cars when the safety car was called and Räikkönen’s challenge was neutralised.
Williams was peerless for the second race in succession, too far behind Ferrari to compete for a podium place and too far ahead of the midfield to be threatened.
Felipe Massa, after hailing his own “amazing” qualifying session on Saturday that put him fourth on the grid, completed an anonymous race to finish fifth, ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in sixth.
Romain Grosjean finished behind Bottas in seventh to score Lotus’ first points of the season using a soft-medium-medium strategy.
Nasr finished just behind Verstappen in eighth, fending off Daniel Ricciardo in ninth.
Ricciardo, who took home one point for his efforts in China, drove an uncharacteristically scrappy race in a car that looked desperately rough.
The Australia’s race was coloured by messy squabbles with Sauber’s Ericsson, who he ultimately kept behind him in tenth, after a disastrous start dropped him to seventeenth.
He also found no help from teammate Daniil Kvyat, who held him up early in the first stint despite running the slower medium tyre.
The pair tussled for position despite Red Bull Racing telling the Russian to move aside. It took a near collision at the first corner for Kvyat to yield, though it took the rest of the lap for the right to finish.
Sergio Perez’s pointless result in eleventh underlined Force India’s lack of pace, and his aggressive three-stop strategy was only just enough to keep the McLarens at bay.
A fast-finishing — relatively, for the lethargic Honda-powered cars — Alonso finished twelfth and was within a second before the safety car.
Jenson Button finished in P13 after an unedifying incident with Pastor Maldonado on lap 51 in which the Briton ran into the back of the Lotus car at turn one after trying to pass him in the last sector.
Button sustained damage to his front wing while Maldonado, who had committed a number of unforced errors in the second half of the race, including overrunning the entry to the pit lane, was forced into retirement with rear brake failure.
Carlos Sainz finished fourteenth after his gearbox temporarily seized, ahead of only Manor’s Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, both of whom finished the race, albeit two laps down.
Max Verstappen, classified P17 after his Renault engine spectacularly failed on the pit straight, put together one of the races of the grand prix with a no holds barred performance.
The hairpin proved the teenager’s despatch point of choice, and gutsy moves on Sauber duo Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were standout passes.
Daniil Kvyat’s RB11 retired in a puff of smoke with a Renault engine failure that is becoming increasingly familiar to Red Bull Racing.
Nico Hülkenberg was last, the first of the retirees after just nine laps, after his Force India car developed an incurable gearbox problem.
2015 CHINESE GRAND PRIX: PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION
|9||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||+32.117s|
|10||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber-Ferrari||+1 lap|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||+1 lap|
|12||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda||+1 lap|
|13||Jenson Button||McLaren-Honda||+1 lap|
|14||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Renault||+1 lap|
|15||Will Stevens||Marussia-Ferrari||+2 laps|
|16||Roberto Merhi||Marussia-Ferrari||+2 laps|
|17||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||+4 laps|
|DNF||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull-Renault||Engine|
|DNF||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||Gearbox|