Ferrari's Fernando Alonso wins Chinese Grand Prix

 

Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag for the first time in 13 races to ignite his Formula One world title challenge this season.

After retiring early last time out in Malaysia three weeks ago, the Ferrari star drove a flawless race to win the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.

It was Alonso's 31st victory of his career, drawing him level with Nigel Mansell on the sport's all-time win list, leaving only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna ahead of him.

Alonso finished a comfortable 10 seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus, with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton having to settle for third for the second consecutive race.

The 28-year-old Briton had to fight off Sebastian Vettel over the closing lap, finishing just 0.2secs ahead of the three-times champion in his Red Bull.

From the outset as soon as qualifying had ended it was always going to be an intriguing battle between the team's technical boffins as to who had made the right strategy call.

The first seven drivers on the grid had used the highly-degradable soft Pirelli rubber in Q3, giving them an early advantage in the race, but knowing they would be forced into pitting early.

For the six drivers behind - Button, Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg in his Sauber, Force India duo Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil, along with McLaren's Sergio Perez - they all started on the medium compound.

That would give them early durability, but aware they would have to switch to the soft tyre very late on, ensuring it would all be about position come the closing stages.

Starting from his maiden pole for Mercedes, and the 27th overall of his Formula One career, Hamilton at least made a sterling getaway.

But with his car being particularly hard on the soft tyre, Hamilton was hit by a double Ferrari whammy at the start of lap five as he was passed by both Alonso and team-mate Felipe Massa.

In many respects, such an early move, was also the most defining of the race because Hamilton never once had an opportunity to try and regain the lead, never mind hold on to it.

As the race unfolded, and as has become the way so far this season, it all became about making the tyres last, pitting at the right time and knowing when to attack and when to try and ease a little.

Ferrari and Alonso mastered that, and whilst Raikkonen had a brush with McLaren's Sergio Perez at one point, the Finn managed to jump Hamilton in the third round of stops to claim the runner-up spot.

As for Vettel, his charge on the softs at the close ensured he fell just short of a podium place, resulting in his championship lead being cut to three points to Raikkonen, nine over Alonso and 12 to Hamilton.

There were casualties along the way, notably Sutil who was rammed into from behind by Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, forcing both to retire after five laps.

As for Mark Webber, it was simply one of those weekends to forget.

After Red Bull failed to fuel his car correctly during qualifying due to a fault with the bowser, Webber started from the pit lane rather than the back of the grid.

That at least was the right call as it allowed the team to alter the car's set-up, and after a pit stop at the end of lap one to get rid of the soft tyre, Webber was running eighth come lap 15.

That was when further disaster struck as he ran into the side of the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, sending the Frenchman into a spin as bits of bodywork flew.

Webber immediately pitted for a new front wing, but he swiftly ran into further trouble as he began to cruise, with salt rubbed into his wounds when his right-rear wheel worked loose at the turn 14 hairpin.

There was no luck either for Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes as the German pulled into his garage after 23 laps with a technical fault.

Behind Vettel, Button finished a creditable fifth given the still ongoing limitations of his McLaren.

Button was followed by Ferrari's Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, Di Resta, Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Hulkenberg in 10th, with Marsussia's Max Chilton 17th.

Over the in-car radio Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was left breathing a sigh of relief to Hamilton.

"Phew! That was close," said Brawn.

"We are not quite there yet, but we are not so far away so let's keep working hard."

As for a delighted Alonso, he said: "That was a fantastic race from the start to the end.

"The tyre degradation was better than expected, so we were able to manage the race really well.

"Overall, the start to this campaign has been very good, so we are optimistic."

Following his 20th consecutive finish, Raikkonen said: "It was a pretty okay result after a bad start.

"As for the incident with Perez, I went on to the grass and I hit him at the back which caused a lot of understeer, but we were still able to still fight for points."

Although Hamilton fell two places overall, he said: I'm really happy with the result.

"It's a great result for the team, we didn't have the pace of the two in front, but we'll keep pushing."

PA

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