Lewis Hamilton has won the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix to join Sebastian Vettel at the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
The Englishman managed tricky wet/dry conditions to finish six seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver, while Max Verstappen put in another stellar performance to climb to third place ahead of Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton’s victory will read as a lights-to-flag display, but the Mercedes driver was pushed hard all the way over the 56-lap race which started in damp conditions.
The entire field opted to start on Pirelli’s Intermediate tyres, with the notable exception of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz who gambled for Super Softs in his first stint.
Conditions were borderline when it came to choosing the right compound, but Hamilton managed his getaway from pole to perfection to lead from Vettel at the start. Vettel would survive an investigation into apparently being out of his grid box at the start, but went unpunished.
There was drama on the opening lap when Sainz found the conditions too slippery on his slick tyres and spun wildly at Turn 2. Further around the lap, Force India’s Sergio Pérez tagged the left rear of Lance Stroll’s Williams and pitched the Canadian into an instant retirement.
With Stroll’s car buried in a dangerous position in the gravel trap, the Virtual Safety Car was called to allow marshals to extricate his FW40.
Vettel took the opportunity to make the switch to Pirelli’s Soft tyres in the hope that he could see out the race without having to make a further pit stop.
The Virtual Safety Car ended after two laps but almost immediately there was another incident as Antonio Giovinazzi was seen emerging from a battered Sauber on the main straight for the second time in 24 hours. Replays showed the Italian helplessly acquaplaning into the pit wall after catching a damp patch on the pit straight.
That triggered a full Safety Car period, which allowed the rest of the field to pit for slick tyres; Hamilton and Bottas opted for the more durable Soft tyres, while the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen (who’d enjoyed a stellar opening lap that saw him climb to sixth place) went for the Super Soft rubber.
Vettel’s earlier pit stop meant he was down the order, with Hamilton’s closest rival now Ricciardo, with Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari in third ahead of Verstappen.
Bottas threw away his chance at a podium finish by spinning behind the Safety Car trying to warm his tyres, consigning the Finn to an afternoon spent recovering back through the field.
With the race resumed on Lap 7, Verstappen quickly picked off Räikkönen with a bold move at Turn 6 and then repeated the feat on his teammate a few laps later.
Hamilton was able to maintain the gap to Verstappen, while Ricciardo was now the cork in the bottle, holding off the two Ferraris. Vettel managed to overcome Räikkönen – who was struggling with power deployment issues – and then almost immediately overtook Ricciardo to move into third.
The German now set about closing down Verstappen, and put enough pressure on the Dutch youngster to force a mistake at the hairpin when he locked up and ran wide.
Verstappen took to the pits and pitted for a second set of Super Soft tyres, whereupon he lit up the timing screens with a succession of fastest laps before quickly diving by fifth-placed Bottas at Turn 6.
That proved the trigger to force the rest of the frontrunners to pit for a second time – Hamilton would maintain his lead over Vettel for the rest of the race, although the Ferrari driver was ultimately able to chip away at the Mercedes’ lead to finish six seconds behind at the chequered flag.
The battle for third provided most of the excitement in the closing stages, with Ricciardo closing down on Verstappen in the final laps. Ultimately the Australian was unable to find a way by, with the pair crossing the finish line nose-to-tail ahead of Räikkönen and Bottas.
Sainz finished a superb seventh in his Toro Rosso to give the Italian team its first points finish since last year’s United States Grand Prix. Also returning to the points was Kevin Magnussen, who drove aggressively throughout in his Haas to finish eighth ahead of the Force India pairing of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon.
The Chinese Grand Prix featured five retirements in all. Aside from Stroll and Giovinazzi’s accidents, Daniil Kvyat retired his Toro Rosso with a mechanical failure, while both McLaren-Hondas failed to see the finish.
Stoffel Vandoorne ground to a halt after 17 laps with a fuel injection problem, while teammate Fernando Alonso defied all expectations and looked a chance of finishing in the points until his driveshaft broke.
The third round of the 2017 Formula 1 season takes place in Bahrain on the weekend of April 14-16.
|2017 FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN CHINESE GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (56 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||56||1:37:36.170|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||56||+ 6.250|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||56||+ 45.192|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||56||+ 46.035|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||56||+ 48.076|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||56||+ 48.808|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||56||+ 1:12.893|
|8.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||55||1 lap behind|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||55||1 lap behind|
|10.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||55||1 lap behind|
|11.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||55||1 lap behind|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||55||1 lap behind|
|13.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||55||1 lap behind|
|14.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||55||1 lap behind|
|15.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||55||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||33||Driveshaft|
|DNF.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||18||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||17||Fuel Injection|
|DNF.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||3||Accident|
|DNF.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||0||Collision|
Image via XPB Images