Fernando Alonso kicked off his 2013 Championship tilt with a strategic and dominant win at the Shanghai circuit, claiming his second ever victory in China and keeping his 100% finishing record at the circuit intact.
Alonso has amazingly completed every single lap in China since the country’s first Grand Prix in 2004 and won his first race since last year’s German Grand Prix to move within nine points of Championship leader Sebastian Vettel.
The Spaniard took the lead early on from Lewis Hamilton who led away from pole, and despite nine different leaders throughout the race, he maintained his advantage after the final pit stops and lead home Kimi Raikkonen in second, who finished just ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.
Both Hamilton and Vettel were engaged in a titanic battle for the final podium position on the last two laps, with Vettel binning a chance to pass the Mercedes on the last lap. The gap in the end between the two was a mere 0.2 seconds.
Raikkonen suffered a terrible start and dropped back into the pack while the two Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa made great starts on soft tyres to challenge the Mercedes. Massa initially looked likely he would challenge his team-mate for second before eventually holding off on making a move. Both red cars made their way past Hamilton on lap five before a string of pit stops occurred which made most of the race unusual as the race positions didn’t shake out until the final round of pit stops.
Jenson Button was fifth for McLaren after leading for several laps on a different tyre strategy, starting on the Medium-compound Pirelli tyres. McLaren showed vastly improved pace in Shanghai which will be pleasing for the team, although they never looked likely to be challenging for a podium.
Massa eventually finished sixth; ahead of the impressive Daniel Ricciardo who secured his best ever finish in Formula 1 in seventh place. The Aussie, who started seventh, made a great start and maintained his position in the top ten all afternoon, and even at one stage challenged Hamilton who overtook him down the back straight before holding off on risking his race.
Paul di Resta came home in eighth in a fairly disappointing race for the Force India team, despite some encouraging pace and the hope of a podium. Di Resta had an early incident with team-mate Adrian Sutil who forced his way past, and Sutil eventually was forced to retire after an audacious move by the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez saw the Mexican run into the back of Sutil, breaking his rear wing and causing the Sauber driver to retire.
Ninth was Romain Grosjean who remains quiet yet consistent in the second Lotus. The final points position went to an impressive Nico Hulkenberg, who at one stage lead for several laps and held off Vettel in the process. A gamble on tyre strategy during the closing stages in an attempt to make up places didn’t pay off however, and the German was left to be satisfied with one point for his afternoon’s work.
Sergio Perez just missed out on points in 11th place in another fairly average afternoon for the new McLaren recruit. He was involved in a tangle with Raikkonen during the race in which he attempted to block the Lotus from passing around the outside and forced him onto the curb, damaging Raikkonen’s nose in the process. Neither driver was punished for the incident, with Raikkonen forced to complete the race with a hole on the tip of his front wing.
Jean-Eric Vergne was 12th for Toro Rosso after earlier coming together with the sister Red Bull of Mark Webber. Webber attempted to pass Vergne but Vergne closed the gap quite significantly, causing him to spin and damaging Webber’s front wing. Webber was forced to retire a lap latter with a rear wheel failure, capping off a terrible weekend for the Australian. After the race, Webber was found guilty in the incident with Vergne and will face a three place grid penalty for next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, while the Red Bull Racing team copped a 5000 Euro fine for failing to properly fit Webber’s wheel in the pit stop that preceded his DNF.
Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado were 13th and 14th for Williams as the team continues to struggle for pace in 2013. Jules Bianchi once again impressed for Marussia in 15th, beating out Charles Pic, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde who came in 18th and last place. Nico Rosberg was the only other retirement in the race, forced out early with suspension issues.
Teams will now only have 7 days to prepare for the next race as the cars travel to Bahrain for round four. With Vettel and Red Bull both holding on to the narrowest of leads, it’ll be interesting to see if we can once again have a fourth different winner out of the first four rounds, just like we did in 2012.
(Images copyright Sutton & Getty Images)