Nico Rosberg’s perfect start to the 2016 Formula One season continued in Shanghai as the Mercedes driver took a controlled Chinese Grand Prix victory, while behind him a dramatic race saw Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel recover from a first-corner collision to take second place ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat.
While the bulk of the race was comfortable for Rosberg, his grand prix began shakily as he was beaten off the line by a hard-charging Daniel Ricciardo who lined up beside the Mercedes driver on the front row of the grid.
As Rosberg slotted into second place, there was drama just behind. Kimi Raikkonen approached Turn One in P3 but made a mistajke and went wide. Vettel drew alongside seeking to go down the inside. Kvyat, who had made an excellent start, was already powering into that space, however, ands Vettel was force to adjust. Raikkonen, recovering from his mistake was turning in and the two Ferrari’s collided. Kvyat drove away into third while Vettel dropped back. Raikkonen was forced to pit for repairs, though he would later claw his way back to a useful fifth place.
At the back of the field, Lewis Hamilton, who had started last after failing to set a time in qualifying and due to an overnight power unit change, ran over the debris from the collisions ahead and then was hit by Felipe Nasr.
He took pitted for a new nose and set about staging a comeback. The champion’s efforts would not be as successful as Vettel’s however and with his car handling, in his own words “like a four-poster bed” he struggled to make major inroads, though he did eventually finish in seventh place having made five pit stops.
Ricciardo’s time in the lead was short. Rosberg, starting on the soft tyres, kept pace with the supersoft-shod Red Bull and then and seemed to cruise past the Red Bull under DRS into the hairpin. However, it soon became apparent that Ricciardo had a puncture. The Australian quickly swung into the pit lane for repairs and rejoined in 17th place.
The debris from Ricciardo’s incident led to the Safety Car being deployed on lap four. That gave Vettel an opportunity to pit for a new nosecone and to plot a recovery.
On the restart, Rosberg led away from Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Gutierrez, all of whom had elected to stay out. Kvyat, meanwhile had made a pit stop and was circling on the soft tyres.
The Russian was soon passing the slower cars ahead and within the space of a few laps he was back into third place and on lap 12 he passed Massa to reclaim second place.
Vettel, meanwhile, was in the wars again, damaging his front wing when he tried to pass Valtteri Bottas for eighth place. The Ferrari driver eventually made his way past and then claimed the scalp of Force India’s Sergio Perez as his race through the ranks continued.
After the second round of stops Vettel found himself in third place with just a second separating him from Kvyat. The Russian was able to maintain the gap for the full length of the stint, however, and it looked like the Red Bull driver might be on for a repeat of his career first podium placing of second at the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix.
It wasn’t to be, however. The pair pitted together on lap 35 with Kvyat on medium tyres and Vettel on softs. The Ferrari driver immediately sought to use the faster warm-up and better pace of the yellow-banded Pirelli and with a few corners he pushed past the Red Bull to take a second place he would hold until the flag.
Behind them Ricciardo was surging through the field. On lap 37 the Australian made his final stop from P4 and dfropped to P8 behind a hard-charging Hamilton. They quickly passed the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, but Ricciardo, on his fresher tyres, sensed an opportunity to pass Hamilton and he overtook the champion with a good move under braking into Turn 6 on lap 42. He dismissed Massa later on the same lap and then closed to within 12 seconds of his team-mate Kvyat by the chequered flag to complete a superb comeback from P17 after his lap two puncture.
At the front though, Rosberg was cruising. He took on a final set of medium tyres 20 laps from home and having opened a 27-second gap to P2 in his second stint, widened the gap to Vettel to an eventual 37.7s by the time he crossed the line to take his third win of the season and his sixth in succession.
With Vettel second ahead of the Red Bulls, fifth place went to Raikkonen, with Massa sixth ahead of Hamilton. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was eighth ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz and the final points position was taken by Bottas.