Hamilton leads championship by six points as Mercedes dominate in Shanghai; Vettel third, Ferrari frustrate Leclerc with strategy; Red Bull’s Verstappen fourth, Albon a superb 10th, McLaren struggle
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 14/04/19 9:56am
Lewis Hamilton has taken the world championship lead after winning a milestone Chinese GP, with Mercedes dominating as Ferrari courted controversy with their race strategy.
Hamilton overtook his pole-sitting team-mate Valtteri Bottas off the line and never looked back, eventually taking victory in F1’s 1000th grand prix by six seconds.
“It’s not been the most straight-forward of weekends but what a fantastic result for the team,” said Hamilton, with Mercedes sealing three consecutive one-twos to start F1 2019.
“The start was where I was able to make the difference.”
Hamilton now leads Bottas in the championship by six points.
Sebastian Vettel was a distant third behind Bottas for Ferrari and the Scuderia frustrated their other driver, Charles Leclerc, after implementing team orders early in the race.
After passing Vettel at the start, Leclerc was told to give way to Vettel on Lap 11 – but the German didn’t pull away and the move hampered the rest of Leclerc’s race.
Leclerc finished fifth after failing to chase down Max Verstappen, who impressed for Red Bull and was involved in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle with Vettel following the first pit-stops in a two-stop Shanghai race.
Pierre Gasly secured his best result of the season in sixth in the sister RB15 and also snatched the extra fastest lap point, while Daniel Ricciardo, the man he replaced at Red Bull, impressed for Renault as ‘best of the rest’.
Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen were eighth and ninth, while British-born rookie Alex Albon sensationally completed the top-10 despite starting in the pit-lane for Toro Rosso.
Ferrari falter as Mercedes crush competition
Not only were Ferrari off the pace on the track – with Vettel some 14 seconds behind Hamilton at the chequered flag – but their strategy with new young driver Leclerc was called into question.
And this just a couple of days after the team admitted Vettel would be given priority in “50-50 situations”.
Leclerc overtook Vettel off the line but Ferrari soon had a conundrum, with Mercedes pulling away from their lead car and Vettel within DRS range, and pushing, back in fourth.
Were Ferrari going to give Leclerc the benefit after his fine start, or allow Vettel, their quicker car for most of the weekend, a chance to attack the Mercedes?
It turns out it was a latter, with Ferrari instructing Leclerc to let Vettel by, which he ruefully did on Lap 11.
But even after that, Vettel couldn’t close in on Hamilton or Bottas, and it was Leclerc who was now within stuck in dirty air in DRS range.
Ferrari then opted to go long with Leclerc on the first and second stint, leaving him out of sync with the rest of the top five and also some 15 seconds behind Verstappen with less than a quarter of the race remaining
Gearbox issues late on meant it was an impossible task for the Monegasque.
But Ferrari’s dilemma shouldn’t take away from what was an incredible afternoon for Mercedes, who have started this season – which they believed the Scuderia were favourites for – stronger than ever.
With their dominance in Shanghai, the Silver Arrows have become the first team since Williams in 1992 to start the season with three consecutive one-twos.
“We’ve soon got to stop talking about Ferrari this, Ferrari that, Ferrari amazing power…because they are not delivering,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle.
“We have to accept that Mercedes are beginning to dominate this.”
Red Bull enjoyed a better weekend than Bahrain, but are not on par with Mercedes with engine nor chassis at present.
It was Hamilton, rather than Bottas, who crushed the competition in Shanghai. The five-time world champion has taken the championship lead, and he rarely looks back…
McLaren struggle, Albon shines
It was a chaotic Lap One, not just with of the change of positions out in front – but also because Daniil Kvyat smashed into both McLarens and sent Lando Norris flying, with the Russian subsequently penalised.
The British teenager never recovered from the damage and suffered his first F1 DNF, while Carlos Sainz was only 14th.
Gasly, Ricciardo and Perez all achieved their best results of the season in the top-10, while Albon superbly held off the Haas cars and Lance Stroll’s Racing Point to secure another point.
After his huge Practice Three smash kept him out of qualifying, this was an impressive mental feat.
Antonio Giovinazzi continues to be left behind by Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo while Williams were two laps down again, though British rookie George Russell can take solace from beating Robert Kubica.
The season continues at the Azerbaijan GP, which takes place on April 26-28.
Chinese GP Timesheet
|1) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes|
|2) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+6.552|
|3) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||+13.744|
|4) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+27.627|
|5) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+31.276|
|6) Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||+89.307|
|7) Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||+1 LAP|
|8) Sergio Perez||Racing Point||+1 LAP|
|9) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 LAP|
|10) Alexander Albon||Toro Rosso||+1 LAP|
|11) Romain Grosjean||Haas||+1 LAP|
|12) Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+1 LAP|
|13) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||+1 LAP|
|14) Carlos Sainz||McLaren||+1 LAP|
|15) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 LAP|
|16) George Russell||Williams||+2 LAPS|
|17) Robert Kubica||Williams||+2 LAPS|
|Did not finish|
|Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
Sky Sports F1 is the home of live and exclusive F1. Find out more here to watch the 2019 season live