Hamilton eases to China victory as Ferrari calls orders

Image by Steven Tee/LAT

Hamilton eases to China victory as Ferrari calls orders

Formula 1

Hamilton eases to China victory as Ferrari calls orders

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Lewis Hamilton eased to victory in the Chinese Grand Prix while Ferrari deployed team orders between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.

Mercedes secured a third consecutive one-two after Valtteri Bottas finished second after having started on pole position, covering off any threat from Ferrari behind in a less than thrilling 1000th race since the start of the drivers’ championship in 1950.

Hamilton got the jump off the line and led into Turn 1, with Leclerc similarly getting ahead of Vettel from the second row, while the two Red Bulls filed in behind. Hamilton was never headed from that point on, and rarely looked under threat from his teammate as Mercedes had the pace to ease away in the opening stint.

The bigger drama was unfolding at Ferrari, where Leclerc appeared to be holding Vettel up and was told to pick up the pace or let the German through. Leclerc agreed to do so if he didn’t pull away in two laps, and was then ordered to switch positions despite protesting he had opened a gap.

Once ahead, Vettel couldn’t drop his teammate and started making mistakes — locking up on multiple occasions — leading to Leclerc complaining he needed to be allowed back in front. While all of that was playing out, Max Verstappen had managed to close up and pit first, meaning Ferrari was set to lose a position.

It was Vettel who got priority and pit on the next lap, having to fight off an attack from Verstappen as the Red Bull dived down the inside at the Turn 14 hairpin. Vettel regained the place on exit as he squeezed Verstappen, and from then on had the pace to pull away and secure his first podium of the season.

Leclerc was left out for a number of laps longer before switching to hard tires — as all the front-runners did — and came out well adrift of the battle for third. Having been told to push hard, Leclerc closed up on the back of Verstappen when the Dutchman pit for a second time on Lap 34, giving himself a 22-lap stint on mediums to the flag.

Vettel had to respond and Mercedes did likewise in case of a Safety Car, double-stacking its cars impressively to reduce the risk of one of them being caught out on track. Leclerc had risen to second place in all that and held off Bottas for a lap — allowing Hamilton to pull clear — before needed a later second stop of his own that resulted in a gap to Verstappen that proved too big to bridge in the closing stages.

Behind Leclerc, Pierre Gasly had a solid race for Red Bull as he came home a lonely sixth having started on soft tires compared to mediums for those ahead of him. Gasly did at least get some excitement — and an extra point — at the end of the race as he took a late third pit stop for another set of softs and snatched the fastest lap from Vettel.

Ricciardo leads Perez. Image by Andy Hone/LAT

Daniel Ricciardo picked up his first points for Renault with a strong drive to seventh, being the lead car to make a one-stop strategy work despite starting on softs. Ricciardo was under pressure from the impressive Sergio Perez in the closing stages but both were looking after their tires, as was Kimi Raikkonen who scored points for the third race in a row for Alfa Romeo.

Raikkonen had looked like a threat for seventh after a long first stint but pushed too hard attacking Perez ahead and faded in the closing laps.

The final point went to Alexander Albon, who excelled after his FP3 crash forced him to start from the pit lane. A one-stop strategy had no Safety Car help — with only a short Virtual Safety Car needed on Lap 1 — and the Toro Rosso rookie held off Romain Grosjean in the final stages as Haas struggled for race pace again and finished outside the points.

The Virtual Safety Car was required on the opening lap when Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat came together, with the two McLarens touching, which in turn caused Sainz to hit Kvyat who then oversteered into Norris, launching the 2018 Formula 2 runner-up into the air.

All three continued but Kvyat was harshly handed a drive-through penalty for the incident, and both McLarens needed repairs before Kvyat and Norris retired later on.

The only other retirement was Nico Hulkenberg, who reported a problem with his car and came into the pits early on, as Renault’s poor reliability record continued after a double-DNF in Bahrain.

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