SHANGHAI (AP) - Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix.
Mercedes showed again that it’s in a different class from its rivals, with Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg taking second place - the third time in four races this season the pair have finished one-two.
“This is a team on a roll, that’s for sure,” Hamilton said. “I’m going to be working hard, we’re going to keep working hard because obviously the others are pushing to catch us.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso held off fast-charging Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo to finish third and give his team its first podium finish of the year, with new team principal Marco Mattiacci watching from the garage.
Ricciardo was fourth, finishing one place ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel after the four-time defending world champion was asked by his team to allow the faster Ricciardo to pass for the second race in a row.
Hamilton’s win gave him his first career hat trick following his victories in Malaysia and Bahrain. The Briton may have even had a fourth win this season but was forced to retire in the season-opener in Australia after starting from pole position due to engine trouble.
With the win, he inched closer to his teammate’s lead in the drivers’ championship with 75 points, just four behind Rosberg.
Hamilton, who moved one ahead of Jim Clark for most poles by a British driver with the 34th of his career in Shanghai, was cruising so comfortably at the end of Sunday’s race that he wasn’t even rattled when the checkered flag was mistakenly shown a lap too soon, at the end of lap 55.
“That was very strange. I was thinking, ‘Am I seeing things?’ I looked up, I was coming across the line expecting to do another lap and, all of a sudden, I looked for a split second and I saw the flag,” he said.
According to F1 regulations, if the checkered flag is shown early, the official end of the race will be the lap before it was shown. On Sunday, that meant the end of lap 54.
The only racers this affected were Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi. Kobayashi had passed the Frenchman on their final lap for 17th place, but their places were reversed in the official results.
Hamilton was so far ahead for much of the race, his rivals were left to battle for second best.
Rosberg, expected to challenge Hamilton in Shanghai after the pair’s incredibly tight duel in Bahrain, started fourth on the grid and was forced to play catch-up after a slow start immediately dropped him back to seventh.
The German methodically tracked down the two Red Bulls and finally passed Alonso on the back straight of the 43rd lap, the Ferrari unable to match the speed of the Mercedes.
Rosberg then set his sights on Hamilton but he was by that point too far ahead, finishing nearly 19 seconds clear of the German.
“We have the best car,” Rosberg said. “But I was back there, so then catching up was nice with this fast car. It’s a good weapon.”
Vettel started third on the grid and briefly moved to second before beginning to fade as his tires wore out. After Rosberg passed him, he was asked to give way to Ricciardo on the 25th lap - a repeat of what happened two weeks ago at the Bahrain GP.
Instead of acceding, however, Vettel asked his team what tires Ricciardo was using and when told they were both on mediums, the German responded, “Tough luck.” At the start of the next lap, though, Vettel did make way and finished a distant 24 seconds behind his teammate.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained afterward that the team had different tire strategies for the drivers, planning a two-stop race for Ricciardo and a three-stop race for Vettel.
“As soon as (Vettel) understood that, he immediately let him through,” he said. “You could see he simply didn’t have the pace to hold him back there. It was pointless.”
Vettel, who has qualified behind Ricciardo three times to start the season, agreed with the decision given his struggles Sunday.
“I’m not yet where I want to be with the car, but it’s an on-going process,” he said. “Hopefully at the next few races we will make some more steps in the right direction.”
Force India had both its drivers finish in the points with Nico Hulkenberg finishing sixth and Sergio Perez taking ninth.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was seventh, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was eighth, and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat finished in 10th, another impressive showing by the 19-year-old debutant.
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