SHANGHAI: Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix for a record sixth time on Sunday to seize the overall lead from his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas in Formula One’s 1,000th world championship race.
Bottas, who made a poor start from pole and lost out to five times world champion Hamilton into the first corner, was second for his team’s third one-two finish in as many races this season.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took third place, his first podium appearance of the campaign, with Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly denying the German an extra point with the fastest lap right at the end.
The comfortable win in a race short on thrills was the 75th of Hamilton’s career, and second in a row after his lucky triumph in Bahrain two weeks ago.
“To have a one-two together is really special in the 1,000th Grand Prix. The start was where I was able to make the difference, and after that it’s kind of history,” said the Briton, who also won the 900th in Bahrain in 2014.
He is now just 16 victories short of Michael Schumacher’s all time record tally of 91.
Hamilton has 68 points to Bottas’s 62 with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third on 39. In the constructors’ standings, Mercedes are already a hefty 57 clear of second-placed Ferrari.
There has yet to be a winner this year from pole position, with Bottas triumphant in the Australian opener in similar fashion to Hamilton in China.
“I think I lost it in the start. The car was feeling OK and otherwise the pace was similar,” said the Finn, who was never under any real threat from behind.
“In the first stint in the dirty air I couldn’t follow. Shame about the start, I got some wheel spin when I went over the white line, the start-finish line which is immediately after my box, and I lost it there.”
Vettel’s team mate Charles Leclerc, on pole in Bahrain but denied victory there after a late loss of power while leading, finished fifth behind Verstappen, who briefly went wheel-to-wheel with Vettel for the final podium spot.
Sixth was Verstappen’s team-mate Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman earning a bonus point for clocking the quickest lap, one minute 34.742 seconds, in windy and hazy conditions.
Leclerc got ahead of Vettel at the start but was instructed by Ferrari to let his team mate through on lap 11, an order the Monegasque complied with while making clear that he did not agree.
“Let Sebastian by. Let Sebastian by,” the team radio told Leclerc. He replied, clearly irritated: “But I’m pulling away” as he backed off and watched Vettel pass.
Ferrari team head Mattia Binotto told reporters earlier in the week that preference would be given to the four-time champion Vettel over Leclerc. At least early in the season.
“If there is any 50-50 situation where we need to take a decision, the advantage would have been given to Sebastian, simply because Sebastian has got most of the experience,” Binotto said.
Despite benefiting from team orders, Vettel was not thrilled with his finishing position. “I’m happy to be on the podium,” he said. “It’s tough. We tried to stick with them. But we just couldn’t. They were too quick right from the start.”
He was asked about the team orders and didn’t give a straight answer in the post-race press conference sitting alongside Bottas and Hamilton.
“I’m not sure I want to answer,” he said, chiding some reporters for taking his words out of context.
“I thought I was faster in the car,” he said. “I was asked if I could go faster. I answered that I felt I can. Obviously the objective was to try to catch Mercedes. At that point the gap was already quite big.”