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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton turned the tables on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by claiming victory at the Chinese Grand Prix, the pair leave Shanghai tied on points at the top of the table after an incident packed and drama filled afternoon of action, where overtaking was back in force.
Behind the two Formula 1 World Champions, in third, was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who stormed through the field from 16th on the grid to claim the final podium spot.
The young Dutchman again the star of the show, scooping the Driver of the Day award as he delivered a trademark gutsy display with some choice overtaking moves in the process.
Hamilton made a great start from pole position to take the lead which he never relinquished, but he had to work hard to stay on top of things in the race where the majority of the field started on Pirelli intermediate tyres on a damp track.
Vettel, on the other hand, lined up well out of his bx and then was sluggish off the line but recovered to tuck in behind Hamilton as they exited the Turn 1 complex. Stewards noted the German’s start-line positioning but did not act on it.
Real drama started early when rookie Lance Stroll clipped the Force India of Sergio Perez on the opening lap, which resulted in the Williams driver beached in the gravel, his race was over and a virtual safety car period ensued to allow marshals to remove the beached car.
At this point several drivers darted into the pits for slicks, including Vettel. At this point the decision to bring in the Ferrari appeared to be an inspired one.
But not long after the restart another rookie, Antonio Giovinazzi, slammed his Sauber into the pit-wall after getting it all wrong on the final turn, in the same area he crashed in qualifying 24 hours earlier. The impact was big and the debris scattered across the track forced the safety car to be deployed.
This played into the hands of Hamilton who made a pitstop and resumed at the head of the field, but Vettel was not so lucky as he found himself behind the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen who had stormed through the field, as well as his own teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Verstappen was on the move, getting past Raikkonen with a sweet move then pouncing on his teammate to take second place behind Hamilton, who was about five seconds up the road at that point. Both Red Bull drivers had opted for Supersofts, with the rest of the front-runners bolting on the yellow band Softs.
Behind the Red Bull duo, Raikkonen was inquiring angrily about the lack of torque over the radio, “What happened with me engine!?”
Meanwhile Vettel lost precious time behind his teammate. He did get by eventually, but much time was lost. Once past he hunted down Ricciardo. The pair rubbed rubber in a thrilling side-by-side tussle which resulted in Vettel stealing third place from the Aussie.
Then, when the Red Bull’s ran out of rubber later in the race, Vettel took Verstappen and found himself behind Hamilton.
The Mercedes was about six seconds ahead. The pair battled it out on the timing screens, but it was a stalemate as Hamilton could not increase the gap, at the same time Vettel could not close it.
Thus the Shanghai result was a reversal of the way they finished at the season opener in Melbourne. Game on: Hamilton versus Vettel.
A delighted Hamilton said afterwards, “It was incredible. Thanks to all of you. It’s such a great crowd here in Shanghai. It was tough for all of us today. But it was a great job by my team and Sebastian and this dude (Verstappen).”
“Big thanks to this team – my own staff and the team back in the factory. This race is so real and exciting and we were matching times so if there wasn’t safety car as it would have been a lot closer,” added the triple F1 World Champion.
Vettel said, “The safety car came just as I was about to start to feel the dry tyres were a lot quicker but then I had a very exciting race. I was stuck in the train for a little while but then tried to chase down Lewis Hamilton. It was a good match. It was good fun.
“My target was to catch Lewis, I was getting angry behind the train, I felt I could go faster in these conditions so I felt I had to try it on Daniel Ricciardo. On the exit I was a bit compromised, I had my elbows out, he really squeezed me, but good fun,” added the four times F1 World Champion.
The battle between the Bulls was intense all race long, the pair slugging it out until the very end, with Verstappen beating his teammate by less than a second after Ricciardo went wide on his final attack of the race. Riveting stuff from them both.
Verstappen summed up, “It was a very challenging race but I really enjoyed it. I think I overtook nine cars in the opening lap so it was a very good race for me!
“I didn’t have a lot of track time this weekend because didn’t do much in qualifying so I wasn’t expecting to finish on the podium having started in 16th.
“I was getting a little frustrated at the end as I wanted clear air to try and push harder but in the end I still finished on the podium so I can’t complain!” added the teenager.
Raikkonen had a troubled race, with what appeared to be some technical fault with the Ferrari, but he soldiered on to finish fifth, but he seemed powerless to defend or attack during the course of the grand prix.
Mercedes new boy Valtteri Bottas made a rookie-style mistake when he spun during the safety car period, while trying to bring his tyres up to temperature. The incident dropped him down the order and he spent the afternoon recovering to finish sixth.
Bottas explained, “Then, behind the safety car, I was trying to keep the heat in the tyres but I made a mistake and spun. After that was tricky to get the tyres back and after that stupid mistake of mine I couldn’t make up the time.
Carlos Sainz was the only driver to start on slicks, but with the early incidents the gamble did not pay off as it might have. Nevertheless he drove a strong race to finish seventh.
After a forgettable debut in Australia for the Haas team, Kevin Magnussen bounced back to deliver a solid drive and score his first points for the team with eighth place.
Taking the final points were the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in ninth and tenth respectively.
Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit – Race Results
|3||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||56||+45.192s||15|
|4||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||56||+46.035s||12|
|8||20||HAAS FERRARI||55||+1 lap||4|
|9||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||55||+1 lap||2|
|10||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||55||+1 lap||1|
|11||8||HAAS FERRARI||55||+1 lap||0|
|14||19||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||55||+1 lap||0|
|15||9||SAUBER FERRARI||55||+1 lap||0|