Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso made amends for his early exit from the last race in Malaysia by taking a crucial first win of the season at yesterday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Kimi Raikkonen finished second, with Lotus having rediscovered their form after a blip in Malaysia, while Lewis Hamilton held off a late charge from Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel to clinch his second consecutive podium for Mercedes.
Vettel, who qualified ninth, started the race on a set of medium tyres that helped him run a long first stint, only using the quicker soft tyres over the last five laps as he set off in pursuit of Hamilton. In the end, the reigning world champion finished right on the Briton’s rear wing after catching up to him with a series of blistering laps.
Following his win, Alonso vaulted to third from sixth in the title race, closing to within nine points of Vettel, whose fourth place finish saw him stay at the top of the standings. Raikkonen is second, but closed to within three points of his Red Bull rival as the Formula One circus heads to Bahrain.
“The two races we finished, one was second and the victory today, so definitely it’s a positive start to this championship,” Alonso said after the race.
“We need to keep going like that, in this direction, with good weekends, with not any extra risk and hopefully in Bahrain we can score some good points again,” he added.
Starting third on the grid, Alonso’s win was built on a solid getaway for the Spaniard — who took advantage of a slow-starting Raikkonen to slot in behind Hamilton — and an early move to take the lead from his Mercedes rival before the first stops.
From that point, Alonso was effectively in control, only conceding the lead during pitstops as two different strategies unfolded over the 56-lap race.
One approach, mostly adopted by the frontrunners who had qualified on the quicker soft tyre saw drivers get the fast-degrading rubber out of the way early on and then run three stints on the preferred medium tyre. The other approach, used by Vettel, saw drivers use the medium over the first three stints before switching to the softs for one final sprint to the flag.
“It was not so easy to understand the race sometimes. We were overtaking the McLarens, Hulkenberg, Sebastian, so it was a little bit of a mix,” Alonso said.
“The car felt a little bit better on the degradation side let’s say. And then in the rest of the race, obviously you need to take care of the tyres a little bit, you need to manage the gap with the guys behind,” the double world champion, who finished the race a commanding ten seconds ahead of Raikkonen, said.
Behind Vettel, McLaren’s Jenson Button claimed a solid fifth, making use of a two-stop strategy that involved running a long middle stint, to give the Woking-based team their best result this season after what has been a dismal start to their year.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa followed Button home in sixth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso and Paul di Resta in the Force India. Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber rounded up the top ten.