April 16 (Bloomberg) -- Nico Rosberg claimed his first career win in 111 Formula One races at the Chinese Grand Prix to put Mercedes atop the podium for the first time since 1955.
Rosberg finished 20.6 seconds ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button after starting the 56-lap race at Shanghai International Circuit from pole position yesterday. Lewis Hamilton of McLaren was third ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
“I will never forget this race,” Rosberg, a 26-year-old German, said in a team statement. “The last 20 laps felt as long as if I was racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Crossing the line was so intense.”
Different drivers from different constructors have won the first three races of the 2012 season. Hamilton took the world championship lead by finishing third for the third straight race and has a two-point advantage over Button atop the standings.
Rosberg gave Mercedes its first victory since re-entering the sport as a constructor in 2010. It last won a Formula One race 57 years ago at the Italian Grand Prix when Juan Manuel Fangio won at Monza.
“This is a truly special and historic day,” said Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn. “I am so delighted for Nico, he has deserved to take his first victory several times, and has now done so by driving a perfectly judged race from pole position. I am excited to see how he develops now.”
Daimler AG has owned the Mercedes team since November 2009 when it bought then champion Brawn Grand Prix with Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJSC. Mercedes had been a partner in the McLaren team for 14 years.
Record seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who had qualified on the front row of the grid for the first time since returning to the sport in 2010, was the only driver who failed to finish the race. He was forced to retire after the right front wheel of his Mercedes was not properly attached at his first pit stop. The team was later fined 5,000 euros ($6,500) by race stewards for an unsafe release.
“It’s just a tragedy we had the problem with Michael because he would have been in great shape too,” Brawn added. “We have started a new adventure.”
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean was sixth ahead of the Williams pair of Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who won in Malaysia three weeks ago, rounded out the points-scoring positions with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Rosberg, who finished 12th and 13th in the first two races of the season, beat Schumacher into the first corner and employed a two pit-stop strategy to the three of Button, who was stalled by a problem fitting a rear wheel on his final stop that dropped him down to sixth place.
“It was a pity because I had four cars in front of me,” Button said of the delay. “I would have had a nice clear track to hunt down Nico. It would have been a big gap, but I would have given it a go.”
With Rosberg clear out in front, he was able to focus on managing his tires to the finish and took the checkered flag to follow his father as a Formula One race winner. Keke Rosberg won five Grands Prix from 1982 to 1985.
Button passed Vettel for second place on lap 50 and Hamilton overtook the Red Bull driver four laps later. Webber then took fourth place from his teammate late on on the final lap to leave defending world champion Vettel with one podium finish from the first three races.
The world championship now moves to Bahrain for the fourth of 20 races on April 22. Formula One’s governing body said last week that the race will go ahead as scheduled amid civil unrest in the Gulf nation.
Rosberg, who made his Mercedes debut in Bahrain two years ago, said the team will push to improve its pace following its breakthrough in Shanghai.
“We will enjoy this success, but our feet are still on the ground,” Rosberg said. “We are still not where we want to be, we are still working hard to understand the car and the tires in all conditions. We will see how that works out in Bahrain.”
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