Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton cruises to victory as Mercedes dominate again

Lewis Hamilton led from start to finish in China
Lewis Hamilton led from start to finish in China

Lewis Hamilton took a dominant Chinese Grand Prix win to take his third straight win of the season, with team-mate Nico Rosberg finishing second to deliver a third one-two finish of the year for Mercedes. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, delivered Ferrari’s first podium finish of 2014 in front of new Team Principal Marco Mattiaci.

On Saturday, Hamilton had landed his 34th career pole position with a commanding performance and when the lights went out at the race start the Briton was equally strong, pulling away from the pack to hold his lead into turn one.

Behind him both Alonso, in P5, and Williams’ Felipe Massa in P6 made excellent starts but as they approached turn one the pair moved to occupy the same space and they collided, banging wheels heavily. Massa was the most disadvantaged, the Brazilian initially slipping to fifth and then later, in his first pit stop, having issues with a stuck rear left wheel. The long stop dropped him down the field and out of contention.

Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai, China, Sunday 20 April 2014.
Top three on the podium

Rosberg, meanwhile, had made an uncharacteristically poor start from fourth. He came within range of the fast-starting Valtteri Bottas of Williams and again there was contact, the Finn being bounced violently sideways. Rosberg dropped to seventh and would spend the rest of the race muscling through the leading order to rescue a podium finish.

Ahead Sebastian Vettel had sneaked past team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to take second place, with Alonso also getting by the Australian to settle into third. Behind them were Massa, Rosberg, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.

By the time first round of stops was triggered by Jenson Button on lap eight, Hamilton’s lead was already approaching the 10-second mark and the race became a story of who would take the remaining podium positions. During those first stops that battle began to heat up.

Alonso managed to get past Vettel during the tyre switch to steal second and Rosberg comfortably outpaced Ricciardo as the Australian’s tyres came to the end of their life, to claim fourth place.

Lewis Hamilton led from the start
Lewis Hamilton led from the start

Hulkenberg meanwhile continued to plough a lonely furrow in sixth, over seven seconds adrift of the leading pack with only Bottas, two seconds behind, for company. Kimi Raikonnen, still patently struggling with Ferrari’s F14T was eighth, ahead of Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez who was now tenth.

Rosberg was soon on the move again, passing Vettel for third. While being passed by the dominant Mercedes was probably just about palatable, the next bout of pressure he faced was harder to swallow. A handful of laps after the first stop Ricciardo had closed up a three-second deficit to the champion and he began to press for an overtaking opportunity.

The Red Bull pit wall got on the radio and urged Vettel to allow Ricciardo through and when the champion was told Ricciardo was on the same tyre as him the response was a terse “tough luck”.

Ricciardo, however, wasn’t taking no for answer and pressed again. The pair battled for several corners and then cool heads seemed to prevail as the Vettel eventually moved aside to allow the Australian through.

Sebastian Vettel versus Daniel Ricciardo
Sebastian Vettel versus Daniel Ricciardo

Ahead, Hamilton was in complete control, comfortably preserving a 12-second gap back to second-place Alonso. It was not so cut and dried for the Ferrari driver, however. Rosberg was closing in, lapping up to six tenths of a second quicker than the Spaniard. By lap 33 the gap had sunk to a second and Rosberg was being told to push hard to pass the Spaniard.

With the threat growing it was the cue for Alonso to make his second visit of the day to the pit lane to take on a final set of Mediums.

Behind him Vettel’s frustrations were growing. Backmarker Kabui Kobayashi refused to give way to the German and the Caterham driver, equipped with new tyres, unlapped himself, a move that prompted Vettel into a bout of hand-waving and vexed radio communication. The solution was to pit the champion from fourth place and he too took on another set of Medium tyres.

Lewis Hamilton with Fernando Alonso in parc ferme
Lewis Hamilton with Fernando Alonso in parc ferme

Rosberg and Ricciardo followed, the second and third-placed drivers coming in for Medium Pirellis on lap 37 and the following lap Hamilton, again the last of the front runners to stop made the same switch a lap later.

With everyone on the same strategy, it was now a race to the flag. Hamilton was comfortably in the lead, almost 13 seconds ahead of Alonso. Rosberg was now 3.4s behind the Spaniard but was setting fastest laps and running over a second per lap quicker. Ricciardo was a further 5.8 s back with Vettel half a second in arrears to his team-mate.

Behind them the gaps were stable with Hulkenberg still a lonely sixth, 3 s ahead of Bottas, with Raikkonen eighth. Perez and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat filled the remaining top 10 spots.

Rosberg’s rise to second was accomplished on lap 42, the Mercedes driver easing past Alonso under DRS on the start-finish straight.

Nico Rosberg versus Sebastian Vettel
Nico Rosberg versus Sebastian Vettel

And that was how the order remained until the flag. Mercedes’ second 1-2 of the year further strengthens the team’s hold on the lead of the Constructors’ Championship. The German marque now has 154 points, ahead of Red Bull Racing who climb to second on 57 points. Force India drop to third with 54 points and Ferrari are now fourth with 52 points.

Rosberg’s second place keeps him on top of the Drivers’ Championship on 79 points, four points clear of Hamilton. Alonso climbs to third with 41 points, ahead of Hulkenberg on 36. Vettel’s fifth place puts him fifth in the Drivers’ table on 33 points.

Hamilton said afterwards, “The fans have been incredible this week and they gave me lots of energy. All the hard work from the team has paid off and I just can’t believe how amazing the car is and it’s testament [to]how hard everyone’s been working. I am really happy that Nico is up here with us too – it’s great rewards for the team. This team is on a roll they have done a great job, we aim to keep moving forward and improving and I hope it can continue.”

Lewis Hamilton took home some big trophies
Lewis Hamilton took home some big trophies

Rosberg summed up his afternoon,  “I am still in the lead in the Constructors Championship and that’s good considering that the whole weekend went really bad for me. I had no communication with the team, so they had no idea what I was doing. I am pleased with second and I just look forward to Spain now and getting back to having everything working. It really is a pleasure to drive this car at the moment, it is so quick and it increases the enjoyment level even more.”

Alonso reflected on his first podium finish of the season, “It was a good weekend we did improve the car a bit and to be on the podium is a nice surprise for us. I think I am third in the Drivers Championship behind Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton and we didn’t have the start to the season we wanted so to be here is fantastic.”

Subbed by AJN.

Report in progress…

Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit – Sunday, 20 April 2014

144Lewis HamiltonMercedes56Winner125
26Nico RosbergMercedes56+18.6 secs418
314Fernando AlonsoFerrari56+25.7 secs515
43Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing-Renault56+26.9 secs212
51Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault56+51.0 secs310
627Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes56+57.5 secs88
777Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes56+58.1 secs76
87Kimi RäikkönenFerrari56+83.9 secs114
911Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes56+86.4 secs162
1026Daniil KvyatSTR-Renault55+1 Lap131
1122Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes55+1 Lap12
1225Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Renault55+1 Lap9
1320Kevin MagnussenMcLaren-Mercedes55+1 Lap15
1413Pastor MaldonadoLotus-Renault55+1 Lap22
1519Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes55+1 Lap6
1621Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari55+1 Lap17
1710Kamui KobayashiCaterham-Renault55+1 Lap18
1817Jules BianchiMarussia-Ferrari55+1 Lap19
194Max ChiltonMarussia-Ferrari54+2 Laps21
209Marcus EricssonCaterham-Renault54+2 Laps20
Ret8Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault28Gearbox10
Ret99Adrian SutilSauber-Ferrari5Engine14

Note – Maldonado failed to make 107% qualifying requirement, so raced at stewards’ discretion. Dropped 5 grid places as penalty for causing collision at previous round.