Lewis Hamilton took a controlled victory for Mercedes in the Chinese Grand Prix as the Ferrari revival was stopped in its tracks in Shanghai.The world champion drove with pace in hand, unleashing his potential only when needed around the pit stops, to beat team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were in touch only because Mercedes were managing their tyres.
Williams’s Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finished fifth and six.
The pre-race debate had all been about whether Ferrari’s lighter tyre usage could enable them to overcome the better speed of the Mercedes, as it had when Vettel won in Malaysia two weeks ago.
But Mercedes, with Hamilton and Rosberg converting their front-row grid positions into first and second places at the start, were comfortably able to keep the red cars at bay.
Hamilton drove only just fast enough to keep the Ferraris at arm’s length while eking out the required stint lengths to match the Italian team’s two-stop strategy.
His superiority was underlined as he neared each of his two stops, when Hamilton suddenly unleashed laps more than half a second clear of anyone else, including Rosberg.
His second victory in three races this season – and his eighth in 10 grands prix dating back to Italy in September last year – extended his championship lead to 13 points over Vettel, whose advantage over Rosberg was cut to four.
In the final stint, Vettel was left to keep an eye on team-mate Raikkonen as he slowly closed in on the German, the Finn putting in a strong performance in his first clean race of the season.
The race, held in warm sunshine in front of busy grandstands indicating China’s growing interest in F1, was not great entertainment, the tension removed once it became clear Mercedes could control their tyres well enough to do the same to the race.
But it did suggest that a theme is developing in this 2015 season – the Mercedes remains comfortably the fastest car, but Ferrari’s better tyre usage will enable them to challenge and keep the champions on their toes.
Behind the leading two teams, Williams were comfortably best of the rest, ahead of a frenetic midfield battle between the Lotus, Sauber and Toro Rosso teams.
Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado was leading it for much of the race, only to wreck his chances with two spins – the first on his way into the pits for his second stop on lap 39 and the second at Turn Six, dropping him way back.
That promoted the Venezuelan’s team-mate Romain Grosjean to seventh.
The Toro Rosso of the increasingly impressive 17-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen was heading for eighth only to retire with a locked rear axle on the pit straight with three laps to go, bringing out the safety car until the end the race.
It was a great shame for Verstappen, who had pulled some impressive passing moves – lunging late but clean down the inside of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson into the hairpin at the end of the long back straight early in the race and doing the same at Turn Six on Force India’s Sergio Perez later.
Verstappen’s performance enhanced the growing impression that he is a major star of the future, despite his youth.
The Sauber of Felipe Nasr inherited eighth, ahead of the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who recovered from a poor start that had him down to 13th place from eighth on the grid at the start, and the second Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
Both McLarens finished the race for the first time in their new era with Honda engines, with Fernando Alonso edging Jenson Button as they pursued different tyre strategies.
Alonso led the Briton early on as they fought to pass the struggling Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat.
Button regained the advantage by sticking with the faster soft tyres for the middle stint while the Spaniard switched to the mediums.
Then the advantage passed back to Alonso as he switched to the softs in the final stint, which the two-time champion started with a 15-second deficit.
With his team-mate closing in, Button found himself in a frantic tussle with Maldonado’s Lotus, which aided Alonso’s attempts to close up on the faster tyre.
Alonso was poised to pass both when the battle ended in drama as Button hit Maldonado from behind on the entry to Turn One and they both spun off.
Alonso ended up 12th, behind Force India’s Sergio Perez, while Button, with a damaged front wing, limped home in 13th as Maldonado retired with brake failure.