Rosberg cruises home ahead of chaos in China

© XPB 

Nico Rosberg continued his perfect start to the season with an easy victory in the Chinese Grand Prix.

The German was beaten off the line by Daniel Ricciardo but re-took the lead  on lap three and was never threatened after that, cruising home over half a minute clear of Sebastian Vettel after a chaotic first half of the race behind the leader.

Vettel was involved in contact with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at the start but fought his way back from a front wing change and further damage to beat Daniil Kvyat to second place. Kvyat took Red Bull's first podium of the year in third ahead of the unlucky Ricciardo, who suffered a puncture early on.

Raikkonen was left near the back of the field after Vettel's error at the start but matched Ricciardo's recovery to take fifth place ahead of Felipe Massa. Lewis Hamilton managed to salvage six points for seventh place having also suffered damage at the start and eventually making five pit stops.

Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten.

Ricciardo got the jump on Rosberg at the start as his Red Bull team-mate Kvyat dived down the inside of Vettel at Turn 1. Vettel swerved to the right to avoid the Red Bull but overcompensated and turned left in to this Ferrari team-mate, damaging his own front wing and dropping both cars back in to the midfield.

Further back, Hamilton had made a solid getaway from last on the grid but got caught in a concertina effect as Raikkonen rejoined at Turn 1, with Felipe Nasr turning right in to the path of the Mercedes and breaking Hamilton front wing. The wing then folded under the car, sending Hamilton off track and causing further damage to the floor.

Hamilton and Raikkonen were both forced to pit, with Romain Grosjean the third car getting a new front wing at the end of the opening lap due to contact at Turn 1.

With Rosberg having started on the soft tyre as a result of his impressive Q2 lap, he kept pace with Ricciardo on the supersofts and appeared to cruise past the Red Bull using DRS in to the Turn 14 hairpin. However, it soon became apparent that Ricciardo had a puncture and he was forced to pit at the end of the lap.

Ricciardo's puncture was caused by debris on the track and the safety car was deployed on lap four, allowing the majority of supersoft runners to pit. Rosberg stayed out ahead of the other soft tyre runners, while Vettel came in for a pit stop and new front wing, overtaking the slow Nico Hulkenberg and Max Verstappen in the pit lane.

With Hamilton at the back of the field, Mercedes took the opportunity to pit again to run the supersoft tyres for just one lap, before again changing to soft tyres. Hamilton therefore had completed three stops by the end of lap six but had used the mandatory two tyre compounds.

On the restart, Rosberg led away from Massa who was also on soft tyres, with the likes of Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton having to fight through the field. When attempting to pass Bottas in to Turn 6, Vettel clipped the side of the Williams and again damaged his front wing, part of which fell off after he later passed Fernando Alonso at the hairpin.

Kvyat was able to show the pace to pass Massa for second place and run quickly in clear air, but Rosberg had already established a comfortable lead as the two Ferraris and Hamilton climbed back into the top ten.

After the second round of pit stops, Kvyat held a lead of just a second over Vettel but kept the Ferrari at bay for an entire stint. Hamilton was struggling to make further progress as he was caught behind Ricciardo, Sainz and Raikkonen in tenth place and Mercedes opted to switch to medium compound tyres at his fifth and final stop to run a 26-lap stint to the end.

Both Red Bull drivers also opted for medium tyres as they pit within a lap of each other, and on each occasion they were followed in by a Ferrari close. Both Vettel and Raikkonen opted for soft tyres for their final stints, with Vettel using the softer compound to pass Kvyat using DRS on their out laps.

Hamilton's recovery reached its zenith point on lap 40 as he passed Bottas with a strong move in to Turn 9, diving up the inside of the Williams and just avoiding contact as he locked up to take fifth place. However, Ricciardo was lapping quickly on fresher medium tyres and passed Hamilton in to Turn 6 with a good move under braking.

Ricciardo then took fourth a few corners later as he used DRS to pass Massa in to the hairpin, going on to pull away from the Williams as the front three cruised home.

Massa withstood pressure from Hamilton as the defending champion's tyres started to degrade, with Raikkonen making a late charge on soft tyres. Raikkonen switched back to the inside line to pass Bottas out of Turn 6 before getting Hamilton in to the hairpin ten laps from the end. Raikkonen then dived up the inside of Massa at the same point a lap later to secure fifth.

While Massa and Hamilton held station, Bottas slipped back in the final few laps, losing out to Verstappen and then Sainz on the last lap to drop to tenth place.

McLaren's hopes of points seemed to disappear with an early stint on medium tyres for Jenson Button, who ran high early on but slipped back through the field.

Despite the chaotic first half of the race, remarkably all 22 cars finished. Haas' fairytale start to the season ended with Esteban Gutierrez finishing 14th to complete a race for the first time in 2016. Gutierrez held off Hulkenberg - who received a five-second time penalty for slowing unnecessarily in the pit lane under the safety car - while team-mate Romain Grosjean complained of an "undriveable" car as he came home ahead of only Felipe Nasr, Rio Haryanto and Jolyon Palmer.

Rosberg's win - his sixth in succession stretching back to 2015 - coupled with Hamilton's problems saw the German extend his lead in the championship to 36 points.

Pos Driver Team Gap Laps
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 56 laps - 1h38m53.891s 2
02 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari + 37.776 3
03 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull + 45.936 3
04 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull + 52.688 3
05 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari + 65.872 3
06 Felipe Massa Williams + 75.511 2
07 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 78.230 5
08 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso + 79.268 3
09 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso + 84.127 3
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams + 86.192 3
11 Sergio Perez Force India + 94.283 3
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren + 97.253 2
13 Jenson Button McLaren + 101.990 3
14 Esteban Gutierrez Haas +1 lap 3
15 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1 lap 4
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +1 lap 2
17 Kevin Magnussen Renault +1 lap 3
18 Pascal Wehrlein Manor +1 lap 3
19 Romain Grosjean Haas +1 lap 4
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber +1 lap 3
21 Rio Haryanto Manor +1 lap 3
22 Jolyon Palmier Renault +1 lap 3