2014 Chinese GP: Lewis Hamilton cruises to comfortable victory ahead of Nico Rosberg
A hat-trick of wins for Hamilton; Vettel loses out to Ricciardo even after disobeying team order; Alonso claims Ferrari's first podium of year; Pit-stop disaster wrecks Felipe Massa's race
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 20/04/14 1:52pm
Lewis Hamilton has completed a hat-trick of victories for the first time in his F1 career by easing to victory in the Chinese GP ahead of Mercedes team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg.
Leading the race from start to finish, and never once having cause to check his mirrors, the resplendent Hamilton was in cruise control as he romped to his third successive win.
The 2008 World Champion is now just four points behind Rosberg in the Drivers' World Championship despite the German's sturdy recovery to second place as Mercedes wrapped up a hat-trick of their own with a third consecutive 1-2 for the dominant Silver Arrows.
Yet the German's post-race demeanor told a telling tale with Rosberg seemingly lost for words as he contemplated the scale of Hamilton's latest triumph, measured at eighteen seconds at the finishing line even after the result was rewound by two laps but perhaps psychologically even more emphatic.
"It feels incredible, it really does. I just have to shout out a big 'Thank you' to the team firstly for embracing me into the team last year and for all their hard work," Hamilton said afterwards.
"I'm so, so happy; I had such a great race and I really enjoyed it - particularly the last few laps, trying to keep temperature in the tyres and pushing a little bit more just to keep the temperature up."
Hampered by a loss of telemetry, Rosberg expressed himself "happy with second" but in what appears to be a two-car battle for the championship the tide, propelled by Hamilton's superior pace, has turned against him with ominous power. With all the momentum shifting towards Hamilton's side of the Mercedes garage, the smart money will be on the Englishman claiming the lead of the championship in three weeks' time when the European leg of the season begins in Spain.
Perhaps by then a different car will be in position to give the Mercedes a fight for victory. Then again, considering the magnitude of the W05's current superiority, perhaps not. After pulling away at a rate of a second per lap from the start, Hamilton only had his shadow for company as he disappeared out front to render the grand prix more a procession than an actual race.
Fifth after a bumpy ride through the first corner, Rosberg's recovery was principally the equivalent of a knife cutting through melting butter in the class-apart W05 with only the ongoing travails of Sebastian Vettel provided compelling intrigue as the 56 laps - only 55 will be classified after the chequered flag was waved a lap too early - ticked down to its inevitable conclusion.
How the world has turned for the World Champion. Off form, rattled by the pace of his new team-mate and struggling to adjust to the tetchy behaviour of the RB10, Vettel suffered the humiliation of being passed - and then left far behind - by Daniel Ricciardo after refusing to obey an instruction from his Red Bull team to let the Australian through. "Tough luck," responded a grumpy Vettel. But it's 2014 which is turning out to be tough for the four-times champion.
"We need to understand why Sebastian is struggling. He's obviously not getting as much out of the car as Daniel at present," said team boss Christian Horner.
"We know that Sebastian is very sensitive to how a car enters a corner and at the moment he hasn't got the feel he needs."
Ricciardo, though, is proving to be the unexpected success story of the new year, although not even the Australian's aggression and underestimated raw pace was enough to prevent Fernando Alonso claiming Ferrari's first podium of the campaign.
Alonso congratulates Hamilton on his victory
The brilliant Spaniard remains the escapologist par excellence in F1, defying a juddering collision with the Williams of former team-mate Felipe Massa into Turn One, but as the chequered flag fell his Ferrari was still nearly half a minute behind Hamilton's Mercedes - a lifetime in a sport measured in tenths of seconds.
"Mercedes look very dominant," sighed Alonso, "they deserve first and second."
For the rest of the field, the only silver lining is that, no matter their speed advantage, the Silver Arrows cars can only fill two of the three podium spots. But in Rosberg and Hamilton's ongoing battle to be the first among equals in the car without peer, there's only one winner at present.