Lewis Hamilton Coasts to Victory in China for Formula 1's 1,000th Grand Prix
Hamilton reached 75 career wins at this weekend's GP, and his sixth at the Shanghai International Circuit.
Mercedes-AMG driver Lewis Hamilton won Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, the milestone 1,000th championship race held under Formula 1 regulations.
He set off on his journey toward this win by maintaining traction better than his pole-sitting teammate Valtteri Bottas, the pair exchanging positions into the first corner. Immediately behind, in the Ferraris, Charles Leclerc did the same to Sebastian Vettel. Further afield on the first lap, Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda's Alexander Albon fought to recover from a pit lane start, and Daniil Kvyat combated a bout of oversteer that took him into contact with Carlos Sainz's McLaren, causing the Russian to hop the Spaniard's wheel. In trying to recover, Kvyat collided with the other McLaren of Lando Norris, bouncing the Brit over his left front tire and causing some floor damage.
Race control activated a short virtual safety car while ensuring the track was clear, and the stewards began an investigation process that would find Kvyat responsible for the collisions, slapping him with a drive-through penalty. When the VSC deactivated, racing resumed, but little action would occur at the front until Lap 9 when Vettel was ordered to push Leclerc. Ferrari asked Leclerc the following lap to either speed up or let his teammate past, and Leclerc obeyed, waving the German past on the following pit straight.
Now behind, Leclerc watched Vettel fail to pull away, and questioned the pit wall with a transmission of "now what?" Vettel on Lap 14 had a significant lockup into the hairpin, keeping Leclerc close, and the young driver would report the following lap that he was losing time by dawdling in Vettel's dirty air. His race engineer responded suggesting that a reversal of team orders was in consideration, but Ferrari ultimately told Vettel on Lap 16 to "push more." As Ferrari figured out which of its drivers had priority, Hamilton became the second driver to stride past the milestone of 4,000 laps led in his career, behind only Michael Schumacher.
Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen became the first of the top teams' drivers to pit, going for a set of hard tires after 17 laps, falling three positions to eighth behind teammate Pierre Gasly and ahead of Alfa Romeo's Kimi Räikkönen. As the Dutchman warmed his tires, Renault's Nico Hülkenberg retired, his team having spotted a problem with his car. Vettel would mimic Verstappen's switch to hard compound tires shortly thereafter, emerging between the Red Bulls and freeing Leclerc.
Lap 20 saw Verstappen attempt a grandiose dive on Vettel into the hairpin, but Vettel swooped back under and maintained track position. Leclerc was given contradictory instructions to preserve his tires, but also to push, Ferrari again showing its trademark strategic buffoonery. Bottas became the first Mercedes to stop a lap after, picking up hards before emerging between the two Ferraris, and Hamilton took his own set of hards the next lap, rejoining the race where he left it—in the lead.
While Hamilton exited the pits, Leclerc entered, at last getting hard tires of his own. He would still come out ahead of Pierre Gasly, who was as distant from the rest of the top six as he was the bottom fourteen. Leclerc again would be given an odd strategy and be told on Lap 30 to push to make a potential "plan B" strategy work, presumed to be a two-stop strat. This hypothetical would become a reality on Lap 34, courtesy of Red Bull, which switched Verstappen's tires back to mediums for the remainder of the 56-lap race.
Ferrari would respond by pitting Vettel after 35 laps and successfully putting the German back on track with mediums ahead of Verstappen. Leclerc was up the road from both drivers, but was on less-than-ideal tires and was losing time to his competitors. Mercedes took a chance on a double-stacked stop for both Hamilton and Bottas to give both medium tires after Lap 36, and the team pulled off the risky move without a hitch. The Silver Arrows sandwiched Leclerc when back in action, and Bottas would catch Leclerc on Lap 38 before dispatching him along the back straight on Lap 39 via DRS.
Vettel would follow in the same manner four laps later, after which Ferrari would finally give Leclerc medium tires of his own. Exiting fifth between the Red Bulls, Leclerc was too far ahead of Gasly to worry, but too far behind Verstappen to fight for fourth, and settled into what is his lowest finish of the season so far. Kvyat too was settling—into his pit box, ordered to retire the car on Lap 43. Ten laps after, Norris would retire his McLaren as Gasly rumbled through the pit lane on new soft tires, distant enough from his competitors to warrant a shot at the fastest lap.
Gasly succeeded in posting the fastest lap by the race's end, which saw the checkered flag fall on a grateful Hamilton, the winner of F1's 1,000th championship Grand Prix. But it wasn't any of the podium finishers that would take the Driver of the Day Vote, as that would be awarded to Alexander Albon, who cobbled together offensive and defensive drives to finish tenth for a single point, despite starting from the pit lane.