Nico Rosberg extended his streak of Formula 1 wins to six races by claiming a dominant victory in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Rosberg led all but the opening three laps of the race in Shanghai, keeping his cool through a dramatic opening stint that saw a number of his rivals drop back and hit trouble.
The German driver ultimately finished over half a minute clear of the field to continue his perfect start to the 2016 season with a third win.
Sebastian Vettel fought back from a poor start to finish second for Ferrari ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, while Lewis Hamilton recovered from the rear of the field to finish seventh despite taking five pit stops in the race.
Off the line, Mercedes’ start woes struck again as Rosberg slipped behind Daniel Ricciardo, leaving the German driver to settle for second place at the end of the first lap. Daniil Kvyat also made a good start in the second Red Bull, forcing Sebastian Vettel wide and into the path of Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen who sustained damage as a result.
Starting last after his qualifying engine failure on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton had hoped to make up some positions off the line, only to tangle with Felipe Nasr and lose his front wing, forcing him to head into the pits for repairs.
Ricciardo’s spell in the lead lasted just three laps as he sustained a tire failure on the back straight, prompting race control to call for the safety car and allow the debris on track to be cleared after a frantic opening salvo.
All of the super-soft runners pitted under the safety car, with Vettel taking repairs and dropping down the order. Rosberg remained in the lead for the restart, while those who had not pitted were able to vault up the order. Felipe Massa ran second for Williams ahead of Fernando Alonso and Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein, with Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez sitting fifth.
Mercedes opted to bring Hamilton in twice under the safety car so he did not need to use any more compounds in the race to leave him 21st, while Vettel ran 15th after his long pit stop.
Rosberg quickly opened up a gap to the chasing pack, but those fighting through the field showed few signs of backing down. Vettel worked his way into the top five within five laps of the restart, by which point Hamilton stood on the brink of the top 10.
Once the early soft runners had made their first stops, the race began to settle down with Rosberg enjoying a comfortable lead up front. Mercedes eventually brought him in at the end of lap 20 to cover off the threat from Kvyat, who had trailed by around 11 seconds ahead of the stops. Rosberg emerged from the pits still leading, with Hamilton rising to third momentarily before making his fourth pit stop of the race on lap 21.
Vettel’s charge had taken him right the way up to third once the order had cycled through the second round of pit stops, albeit 15 seconds down on Rosberg at the front. Hamilton and Raikkonen duelled for position while working their way into the top 10, making points likely as the race hit half distance.
Mercedes took the decision to change Hamilton’s strategy yet again with 25 laps remaining, bringing the Briton in for his fifth pit stop and fitting medium compound tires so he could go to the end of the race without pitting again.
The battle for second place hotted up in the second half of the race as Kvyat and Vettel ran closely. The pair took their battle to the pit lane where Kvyat retained his advantage, only to be passed one lap later by Vettel on the soft tire. However, medium-shod Kvyat would find his tires more workable towards the end of the race.
Rosberg made a hassle-free final stop on lap 36, again retaining his lead while Hamilton found himself dicing with the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas over fourth position. The Briton soon eased past Bottas, but was joined by the recovering Ricciardo who duly moved ahead on a fresher set of medium tires. Hamilton now ran sixth, while Ricciardo made hay by claiming fourth from Massa just a few corners later.
Hamilton continued to struggle in the closing stages with his worn mediums, losing another place to the charging Raikkonen on soft tires. The Finn then made light work of Massa for fifth, leaving Hamilton to toil behind the Williams driver.
At the front, Rosberg had quietly gone about his business to extend his lead over the final stint before crossing the line to score his sixth consecutive grand prix victory, finishing 37 seconds clear in P1.
Rosberg becomes only the fourth driver in the history of F1 to win six races in a row, and to make for even better reading, no driver has won the opening three rounds of the year and not claimed the championship.
Vettel’s soft tires held up to the end to give him second place ahead of Kvyat, who scored Red Bull’s first podium finish of the year in P3. Teammate Ricciardo followed in fourth ahead of Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
Hamilton was unable to pass Massa in the final laps of the racing, allowing the Brazilian to finish sixth. In seventh, Hamilton saw the deficit to Rosberg in the drivers’ championship swell to 36 points after just three rounds.
Toro Rosso youngster Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. put their fresher tires to good use late on to pass Bottas, allowing them to finish eighth and ninth respectively. Bottas was forced to settle for P10, rounding out the points for Williams.
Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg struggled in the second half of the race, fading to P11 and P15 for Force India. The McLarens also failed to live up to their expectations as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button ended the race 12th and 13th respectively.
Esteban Gutierrez finished for the first time in 2016, crossing the line 14th as Haas teammate Romain Grosjean ailed home in 19th. Marcus Ericsson finished 16th for Sauber ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Pascal Wehrlein, with Felipe Nasr, Rio Haryanto and Jolyon Palmer rounding out the bottom three positions as all 22 cars finished the race.