Lewis Hamilton scored his fifth Formula 1 career Chinese Grand Prix victory with a commanding performance in Shanghai to come home ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The British driver moved level with Vettel at the head of the drivers’ championship as a result, while Verstappen scored Red Bull’s first podium finish of the season.
After much of Friday’s practice running was lost when low cloud prevented the medical helicopter from operating as required, there was much speculation that the race could be disrupted as it took place in similar conditions.
That situation was avoided as the FIA arranged for the necessary neurosurgery staff to be transferred to a hospital closer to the circuit, but rain had fallen in the build up to the start and all the drivers – except Carlos Sainz – set off on intermediates.
Hamilton held his lead from pole position on the run to Turn 1 as Vettel, who had lined up strangely to the side of his grid box, defended hard from Valtteri Bottas through the long right-hander, while Daniel Ricciardo passed Kimi Raikkonen for fourth place.
Verstappen, who had started down in 17th after he suffered an engine problem in qualifying, had made it well into the top ten by the end of the first lap, which was disrupted by a collision between Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez at Turn 10 that ended the Canadian driver’s race.
The Virtual Safety Car was deployed on the second lap of the 56-lap event while Stroll’s car was recovered and most of the field – including Vettel for new soft tyres – chose to come in and switch to slick tyres. Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen and the two Red Bull drivers stayed out on their intermediates.
Shortly after the VSC ended, Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi crashed heavily on the pit straight for the second time in two days. The Italian lost control of his C36 as he ran onto the still-wet grid and smashed into the pitwall, which triggered a full Safety Car intervention.
As the marshals recovered the wrecked Sauber, the field had to drive through the pits and the leaders took their chance to switch to slicks – softs for the Mercedes drivers and Raikkonen, and super-softs for the Red Bulls.
The timing of the Safety Car worked out badly for Vettel who dropped from second to sixth due to his early stop under the VSC, but he was given one place back when Bottas went off before the restart and dropped down to 12th place.
When the race did get going again, Hamilton maintained his lead and for the first few laps the top five were covered by less than three seconds.
But the triple world champion began to pull clear as Ricciardo held up his team-mate and the Ferrari drivers. The two pairs of team-mates fought each other for a while before Verstappen dived up the inside at Turn 6 and pulled off a stunning pass late on the brakes at the tight right-hander.
Verstappen scampered off after Hamilton – who continued to pull clear – while Ricciardo thwarted the Ferrari drivers. For almost ten laps they could not find a way by, as Hamilton extended his lead.
Vettel eventually launched a similarly bold move to Verstappen’s at Turn 6, which got him back past Raikkonen – who was complaining of power problems on his team radio – on lap 20 and up to third. Two laps later he attacked Ricciardo at the same corner with a thrilling move around the outside. The pair ran side-by-side on the run to Turn 7 and briefly clashed wheels before Vettel sailed into third place and set off after Verstappen.
Hamilton continued his march as Vettel reeled in Verstappen and at the halfway mark he went past him when the Red Bull driver locked up at the Turn 14 hairpin and ran wide.
By this stage Hamilton had a solid 12-second lead and was asking his team if he would have to go to the end on his soft tyres. But after Verstappen and Ricciardo came in to replace their super-softs, both Vettel and Hamilton did come in for their own fresh tyres.
Vettel took four seconds out of Hamilton’s lead by pitting two laps earlier and although he managed to reduce the deficit on a few occasions, the Mercedes driver always appeared to have enough pace to manage the gap over the final stint.
Hamilton came home 6.2s ahead of Vettel to score his 54th F1 win, as Verstappen – furiously complaining about blue flags not being shown to Romain Grosjean – held off a late charge from Ricciardo to take third.
Speaking after the race, Hamilton said: “It was incredible. Today was very tough for us all. I went out on the inters initially on the laps to the grid and then I tried the slick, which was impossible.
“We all started on the inters and it was very hard because there were a lot of dry patches everywhere – mostly dry with a couple of corners that were wet. Trying to keep the car on the track and look after the tyres at the same time was definitely very tough.”
Raikkonen, who was also angry about how long Ferrari had left him on his first set of soft tyres, eventually finished fifth, just behind the Red Bull drivers, while Bottas caught up to all three of them by the end and finished sixth.
Sainz survived dropping to last off the line and running wide at Turn 1 as he struggled with slicks on the wet grid, then spinning at Turn 2 a short while later and appearing to hit the barriers as he re-joined, to leap up the order and run just behind the lead battle early on. He fell away from the front but kept his pace up and was the final driver left on the lead lap as he finished seventh, best-of-the-rest behind the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.
Kevin Magnussen beat the Force India pair of Perez and Esteban Ocon to eighth to score his first points for Haas F1. The Danish driver escaped punishment for driving too slowly behind the Safety Car, while no action was taken for the Perez and Stroll incident.
Grosjean finished 11th, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who was handed a five-second penalty for overtaking under the VSC and a ten-second penalty for the same infraction under the full Safety Car.
Jolyon Palmer came home 13th in the second Renault, one spot in front of Williams’ Felipe Massa, who dropped down from sixth on the grid. Marcus Ericsson was last of the drivers to finish the race, one lap down in 15th for Sauber.
McLaren suffered a double retirement as a fuel problem stopped Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso’s race was ended with what he reported as a driveshaft problem over his team radio. Alonso had spent much of the race running in the top ten and had been fighting Sainz shortly before the problem occurred.
The only other driver not to finish was Daniil Kvyat, who pulled off the track to retire on lap 20.
Chinese Grand Prix results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1h37m36.160s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +6.250s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull +45.192s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +46.035s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +48.076s
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +48.808s
7 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +1m12.893s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 +1 Lap
9 Sergio Perez Force India +1 Lap
10 Esteban Ocon Force India +1 Lap
11 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 +1 Lap
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1 Lap
13 Jolyon Palmer Renault +1 Lap
14 Felipe Massa Williams +1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +1 Lap
DNF Fernando Alonso McLaren
DNF Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
DNF Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
DNF Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber
DNF Lance Stroll Williams
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