In a China Grand Prix with two safety car phases, several spins and wheel-to-wheel duels, the British Mercedes driver relegated his German Ferrari rival to second place and extended his Shanghai record to five successes .
With his safe lights-to-flag victory, Brit Hamilton caught up with Vettel, the winner of the season opener, in the standings after the second race of the season. Both now travel to the next race next Sunday in Bahrain with 43 points.
“A stone fell from my heart. A perfect strategy by Mercedes. Thanks to everyone,” said team supervisory board chief Niki Lauda. There was also recognition from the retiring Mercedes World Champion Nico Rosberg via Twitter: “Back at the top. Congratulations to Lewis/Merci! Very deserved”
The Dutch youngster Max Verstappen delivered a furious race to catch up in the Chinese metropolis and raced from 16th place on the podium in the Red Bull, just ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen in the second Ferrari. Rosberg’s successor Valtteri Bottas had to settle for sixth place in the second Silver Arrow. Nico Hülkenberg, on the other hand, missed out on the points in his second race for Renault when he was twelfth.
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The initial phase turned out to be chaotic. Even before the start, people at the command posts were puzzling over the right tire choice. On the drying track, most chose the mixed weather tires intended for wet conditions. The start was initially unspectacular. Pole setter Hamilton defended his lead, Vettel had to defend himself against Bottas in the second Silver Arrow, but remained in second place.
The first frenzy came when Williams youngster Lance Stroll got stuck in the gravel after colliding with Sergio Perez in Force India on the second lap. Vettel, among others, used the subsequent virtual safety car phase to switch to slick tires for the dry track. The Heppenheimer found himself in sixth place.
Shortly after the race was restarted, Antonio Giovinazzi shot into the barriers on the home stretch. The substitute for the still injured Worndorfer Pascal Wehrlein dismantled his Sauber, the safety car had to go out.
Again, some drivers took the opportunity to change tires, including Hamilton. Three laps later, the race finally got underway. Hamilton drove away from the top, behind him Ricciardo, who was outstripped a little later by his Red Bull colleague Max Verstappen. The two Ferraris with Raikkonen and Vettel followed in fourth and fifth place.
The German got stuck several laps behind the Finn, while rival Hamilton drove away unchallenged. With two strong overtaking maneuvers against Räikkönen in the 20th lap and two rounds later against Ricciardo, Vettel advanced to third place. When Verstappen misbraked on the 29th lap, the four-time champion easily passed the super talent and took second place.
A little later he got new tires again and took third place behind Räikkönen. Hamilton also reacted and came to change tires, but defended his lead. Raikkonen also had to pit again, making Vettel the first pursuer again. He could no longer endanger Hamilton.
Hulkenberg experienced a day to forget. The Renault newcomer should have been satisfied with seventh place in qualifying, but the race did not go as planned. In the early stages, the 29-year-old fell further behind. To make matters worse, he received a five-second time penalty for overtaking during a safety car phase. Hülkenberg couldn’t do better than twelfth place.
Facts about the race track
Formula 1 driver field
Rule changes for the 2017 season
China Race Schedule
World Federation Preview