Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the Chinese Grand Prix to give the 2013 Formula One world championship different winners from the first three races.
Alonso finished 10 seconds ahead of Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen yesterday at the Shanghai International Circuit for his second victory at the event. He joins Lewis Hamilton as the only multiple winners in China since the country joined the series in 2004. Hamilton was third for Mercedes.
Alonso’s first triumph in 13 races, which came after he went out of the previous event on the second lap, lifted the two-time world champion to 31 career victories and into a tie with Nigel Mansell in fourth place on the all-time list. Only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna had more wins.
“It was nearly a perfect Sunday for us,” Alonso, a 31-year-old Spaniard, said in a news conference. “The car felt good. The two races we finished, one was second and the victory today, so definitely it’s a positive start to this championship. We need to keep going like that, in this direction.”
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, seeking his fourth straight drivers’ title, finished fourth to stay atop the standings with 52 points, three ahead of Raikkonen. Alonso is a further six points back in third place. Red Bull has a five-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
The next event in the 19-race season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, is scheduled to take place in six days at Sakhir.
“This is only the third race and in a few days we will already be back on track to take on another challenge,” Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali said in a statement. “In this first part of the championship it is harder than ever to come up with an accurate evaluation of the hierarchy in the field.”
In a Shanghai race dominated by tire and pit-stop strategy yesterday, most of the cars used a three-stop tactic amid nine lead changes.
Alonso, who had started in third place behind Raikkonen and pole position-sitter Hamilton, went ahead of the field for good with 13 of the 56 laps remaining after passing Vettel, who still needed to make his final stop. It was Alonso’s first victory since the 2012 German Grand Prix in July.
Vettel, who won the Malaysian Grand Prix three weeks ago, made his final stop with five laps remaining and tried to close an 11-second gap to Raikkonen and Hamilton, who held him off on the last lap by two-tenths of a second.
“Fernando and Kimi were just a little bit too fast for us during the race and my tires were shot at the end trying to keep ahead of Sebastian,” Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, said in a team statement. “I could see his car getting bigger and bigger in my mirrors so it was nice to be able to hang on for third place. We got the absolute most out of the car.”
Raikkonen, who won the season-opening race in Australia, was hampered by his car’s broken nose and front wing caused by an earlier collision with Sergio Perez of McLaren. Alan Permane, the Lotus team’s trackside operations director, said the Finn was losing about 0.25 second per lap because of the damage.
“Kimi showed once more why he’s one of the very best drivers in the world by being one of the fastest on track despite sustaining damage to his car,” Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier said on the team’s website. “Without the incident for Kimi, then we definitely would have fought for a win.”
Jenson Button finished fifth after making two stops in his McLaren. Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was sixth ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, who converted his seventh place on the grid into the same position at the end of the race for his best career finish.
Force India’s Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the points-scoring places.
Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, who started from the pit lane after being demoted to the back of the grid for a fuel rule infringement in qualifying, was forced to pit with front-wing damage after colliding with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and subsequently retired when the right-rear wheel came off his car. He was one of four drivers who failed to finish.
Adrian Sutil quit after his Force India was hit by Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, an incident that will see the rookie Mexican driver drop five places on the grid in Bahrain as a penalty.
Webber will drop three starting places for next weekend’s race after stewards penalized him for running into the side of Vergne’s car as he attempted to pass the Frenchman on lap 15.
“It probably looks quite clumsy but I couldn’t get out of it,” Webber said. “We have had a few problems this weekend.”