Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Lewis Hamilton wins against the run of play in China as Valtteri Bottas left to lament missed opportunity

Despite being the slower Mercedes-GP driver for much of the weekend in Shanghai it was the world champion who prevailed over his teammate

Lewis Hamilton, left, is congratulated by his Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas on his win in China. Reuters
Lewis Hamilton, left, is congratulated by his Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas on his win in China. Reuters

For a man who had won five times there previously in his career, Lewis Hamilton did not have high expectations at the Shanghai International Circuit at the start of the weekend.

"It is not one of my strongest tracks" had been the Briton's verdict after Friday practice for the Chinese Grand Prix when he had been almost a second off the pace of his Mercedes-GP teammate Valtteri Bottas.

That gap remained the same in Saturday practice, and then Bottas edged him out in qualifying to take pole position.

But, when it mattered most, in the race, Hamilton turned the tables on Bottas and dominated to pick up his 75th career victory, sixth in Shanghai and his second in a row in 2019.

The scary thing for the rest of the Formula One grid is that Hamilton has yet to really hit his stride this year, yet leads the championship by six points from Bottas and already has a 29-point advantage over the highest placed non-Mercedes runner, Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.

Hamilton won what would prove to be a processional race at the start. He got away from second superbly and was comfortably ahead of Bottas before Turn 1.

He never looked back from there on. Bottas stayed close but was never a realistic threat and finished the 56-lap event 6.5 seconds behind.

It has been an odd season so far for Hamilton. He was well beaten in Australia by Bottas, inherited the win in Bahrain after Ferrari's Charles Leclerc hit trouble, and then had been off the pace until race day in China.

The five-time world champion acknowledged his difficulties as he reflected on his success.

"It's not been the most straightforward of weekends, but it's a fantastic result for the team," he said. "We didn't know where we would lay with the Ferraris. Valtteri had been quick all weekend and he did great today to have a one-two together on the 1,000th grand prix.

"The strategists in the team have been on point for these first three races so we need to keep it up. It's so close between us all I have no idea how the next race is going to turn out."

This already has a feeling of being a season where the team and the driver that makes the most of the opportunities that come their way will be the ones celebrating championship success once the season climaxes at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 1.

Hamilton has proved a master of it in the past and is already excelling at it again this year.

Mercedes had the edge on Ferrari this weekend so Sebastian Vettel and Leclerc should not be disconsolate about their third and fifth place results.

Where the regret should sit with them is over Bahrain where they were comfortably the quickest package, yet conspired to hand Mercedes an unlikely one-two finish with a combination of mechanical unreliability and driver error.

Sunday was Bottas's turn to look back at what might have been.

Quickest on Friday and Saturday he had been the fastest Mercedes man all weekend. Yet he trailed in second when it comes to the event where the points are handed out.

Bottas tried to put a brave face on the setback, but it will hurt. He knows he is up against one of the most successful drivers in the sport's history, using the same equipment, and he needs to be perfect to have any chance of becoming world champion and capitalise on the times he is the quicker man.

The start cost him. It handed the initiative to Hamilton and it was effectively game, set and match to the Briton from then on.

"In the dirty air I couldn't follow to take it back so it's a shame," the Finn said. "It's small details but its early days in the season but I'm proud for the team we've done so well in the races so far."

Bottas knows he cannot allow Hamilton to build a lead in the standings. He will consider himself a genuine contender to his teammate, but will also know that Ferrari are still a real threat.

If Vettel and Leclerc can find consistency it may end up being that Mercedes focus their energies on their lead car, later in the season. That is what happened in 2018 and led to Bottas being forced to sacrifice at least one potential winning chance for the benefit of his teammate's hopes.

Azerbaijan is next up on April 28. A year ago Hamilton won in fortuitous circumstances after both Bottas and Vettel hit bad luck.

The pair will hope lightning does not strike twice as they look to prevent Hamilton from pulling even further ahead.

Updated: April 14, 2019 04:54 PM

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