SHANGHAI: Lewis Hamilton powered to victory in a chaotic Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday, taking swift revenge for his defeat by Sebastian Vettel in the Formula One season-opener.
The Briton, who started on pole, steered his Mercedes to his fifth Chinese Grand Prix win, beating Vettel’s Ferrari by just over six seconds with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finishing third after an early safety car drama.
“Get in there, Lewis!” Hamilton’s engineer said over team radio after the triple world champion took the chequered flag in China for the third time in the last four years.
“That’s a great race, mate. An absolute masterclass.”
Hamilton replied: “We’ve worked really hard for this, we’ve got to keep pushing.”
After being stung by Vettel in Melbourne two weeks ago, Hamilton predicted a fierce battle for the Formula One title this year.
“In the last 20-odd laps we were just pounding around as fast as we can, exchanging lap times,” he said after his 54th victory in F1.
“That’s what racing is all about. Ferrari have done a fantastic job — it’s very, very close,” Hamilton added, referring to the difference in performance between the sport’s top two teams.
“There were times Sebastian put laps in and it was hard to even match the time. In the last 12 laps or so it was very, very hard to get to where he was. But then there were other times in the race where I was quicker.”
Vettel recovered from a poor start from row one. But after being stuck behind Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen early on, the German began to show the pace that swept him to victory in Melbourne two weeks ago.
– Blue smoke –
First Vettel blew past Raikkonen before going wheel-to-wheel with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at turn seven, producing puffs of blue smoke as the cars touched tyres.
Verstappen loomed ahead but the young Dutchman, who produced an astonishing first lap after starting from 16th on the grid, suffered a lock-up going into the hairpin — allowing Vettel, rather anti-climactically, to take second place.
“Grazie a tutti!” said Vettel over the radio. “I think we were a bit unlucky. It felt like we were the quickest, man. We couldn’t prove that today but next time we will.”
He later told reporters: “Lewis was quick, full stop. Today we finished second. Very happy with that, we take it. It was good fun, I can’t complain.”
Ricciardo took fourth behind Verstappen after an furious late scrap between the two Red Bulls, with Raikkonen finishing fifth ahead of fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes.
Carlos Sainz finished seventh for Toro Rosso with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas eighth and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out the top 10.
Bottas apologised to Mercedes for an embarrassing spin while weaving to warm his tyres behind the safety car, which dropped him down to 12th.
“Really sorry, guys, for the amateur mistake,” said Bottas, who had earlier been called “Nico” over team radio as an engineer momentarily confused him with world champion Nico Rosberg.
“I’ll make up for it in the next race.”
A wet track caused havoc early on with the virtual safety car deployed on lap one after Lance Stroll spun off in his Williams.
The safety car was called again after Antonio Giovinazzi smashed his Sauber into a wall, allowing Hamilton to take a “free” pit stop to switch to soft tyres and build an early cushion.