Lewis Hamilton restored normal service for Mercedes with a controlled and relatively comfortable drive to Chinese Grand Prix victory ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg.
A fortnight ago in Malaysia, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, had shocked Mercedes by stealing victory from under the champions’ noses, but this time the German driver was forced to resume the best-of-the-rest status Ferrari had laid claim to in the opening round in Australia. He was followed to the flag in Shanghai by fourth-placed team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
At the start Hamilton comfortably kept his advantage, the Briton making a good getaway to power through turn one ahead of Rosberg. Behind the Mercedes pair Vettel slotted into third, but following him Kimi Raikkonen was on a charge, passing the battling Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in successive corners. Massa, who had initially been beaten into turn one by his team-mate, eventually found his way ahead of Bottas again to claim fifth place.
Further back, seventh-on-the-grid Daniel Ricciardo made a dreadful start. The Australian seemed unable to get any power from his RB11 and he dropped back to 17th. He spent the opening laps trying to recover the lost ground but was somewhat hampered by his own team-mate, Daniil Kvyat. The Russian, one of just two drivers (the other being Carlos Sainz) to start on the medium tyre, found himself in 13th place when he was told not to impede the hard-charging Ricciardo, but Kvyat made the pass difficult for the Australian and it took a lap before Ricciardo eventually moved past.
At the front, Hamilton was firmly in control and by lap 12, the end of the first stint for most, he had opened up a 1.5 second gap to team-mate Rosberg and was 4.5s ahead of Vettel in third, with Raikkonen a further two seconds back.
After the first round of pit stops, in which both Mercedes drivers took on soft tyres, Hamilton retained his lead and widened the gap to Rosberg to two seconds. Vettel stayed third ahead of Raikkonen, with Massa fifth in front of Bottas. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado was enjoying a good race and had climbed from 11th on the grid to eighth place, ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean. Behind them, though, Daniil Kvyat was in trouble. His car slowed and on lap 16 he pulled off track at turn 6 with smoke pouring from the back of his car.
That initially put Felipe Nasr into ninth place but on lap 20 he was passed in a textbook move into the turn 14 hairpin by Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen.
At the front, Rosberg was complaining that as Mercedes managed tyre wear in their second stint on option tyres Hamilton was running too slowly, with the result that the German was quickly being reeled in by Vettel. With the Ferraris also running the option tyres and closing, Hamilton was swiftly told to pick up the pace. He did so but Vettel continued to press, closing to within 1.5s of Rosberg.
By the end of the stint, Rosberg was trailing Hamilton by 2.7s but had widened the gap to Vettel to two seconds. The Ferrari driver was asked if he could go faster, but the Malaysia winner responded that he was “on the limit”.
The four-time champion was the first of the front runners to blink and he pitted on lap 30 for medium tyres. Rosberg was swiftly told to make his second stop and he headed for the pit lane on lap 31, where he also took on mediums.
Hamilton made his final stop, for mediums, the end of lap 33, but Raikkonen elected to stay out, waiting until lap 34 to take on his final set of mediums.
With the second stops done and Mercedes looking much more comfortable than Ferrari on the medium tyre, the gaps at the front stabilised, with Hamilton 5.5 seconds clear of his team-mate. Vettel was a further five seconds back with Raikkonen 3.7s adrift of his Ferrari team-mate.
The top four were in a league of their own, however, with Raikkonen 27.9s clear of Massa in fifth. The Brazilian headed team-mate Bottas by nine seconds, while Grosjean held seventh.
Verstappen was now an excellent eighth ahead of Felipe Nasr, with the Sauber driver running seven seconds ahead of team-mate Ericsson. The Swede was coming under heavy pressure from Ricciardo who was desperate to get his underperforming Red Bull into the points. The Australian eventually made a passing move stick on lap 44 to take a disappointing single point for the Milton Keynes squad.
Further back Pastor Maldonado’s good early-race work was undone when he overcooked his entry to the pit lane for his second stop and was forced down an escape road. The time lost dropped him to P14. His race unravelled further when he spun and rejoined and he spent the last phase of the race chasing down McLaren’s Jenson Button for 13th place. He passed the Briton eventually but the advantage was shortlived. On Lap 49, Button tried to attack as the pair went towards turn one. The pair collided, with Button shipping front-wing damage and Maldonado spinning. The Lotus driver pitted for repairs but was eventually forced to retire. Button was later handed a time penalty for causing the collision.
There was drama in the closing stage as Verstappen’s race unfortunately came to an end. As he put the power down on the exit of the final corner of his 53rd lap, the Dutch teenager’s Renault engine let go and he ground to a halt on the pit straight.
That brought out the safety car and the seven-second lead Hamilton had built over Rosberg was erased. So too was the 11-second advantage Rosberg enjoyed over Vettel.
However, with Verstappen’s car stranded on the pit straight and with no easy recovery possible, race officials were forced to end the race under the safety car and Hamilton cruised past the flag to take a comfortable second win of the season.
2015 Chinese Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1h39m42.008s
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.714s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 2.988s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 3.835s
5 Felipe Massa Williams 8.544s
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 9.885s
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 19.008s
8 Felipe Nasr Sauber 22.625s
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 32.117s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 Lap
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1 Lap
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren1 Lap
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1 Lap
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1 Lap
15 Will Stevens Marussia 2 Laps
16 Roberto Merhi Marussia 2 Laps
17 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 4 Laps
– Pastor Maldonado Lotus Retirement
– Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing Retirement
– Nico Hulkenberg Force India Retirement