SHANGHAI • Nico Rosberg insisted that Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton remains the "benchmark" despite claiming a dominant win in an action-packed Chinese Grand Prix yesterday to maintain his perfect start to the Formula One season.
The German was jumped at the start by Daniel Ricciardo. But after avoiding the first-corner mayhem unfolding behind the front two, he quickly caught the Red Bull and romped home to win by a whopping 38 seconds from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Reigning world champion Hamilton began from the back of the Shanghai grid after a mechanical failure but battled up to seventh.
"Three races are just a handful and we've got 18 to go - it's the longest season in F1 history," Rosberg told Sky Sports after a hat-trick of wins this season stretched his championship lead over the Briton to 36 points.
"My team-mate is dear Lewis and he's going to push like hell, like always, and it's tough to beat him in previous years and it's going to be tough to beat him this year.
CHINESE GRAND PRIX
1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:38:53.891
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +37.776sec
3 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Red Bull +45.936
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +52.688
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari +1:05.872
6 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +1:15.511
7 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +1:18.230
8 Max Verstappen (Ned) Toro Rosso +1:19.268
9 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Toro Rosso +1:24.127
10 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams +1:26.192
1 Rosberg 75
2 Hamilton 39
3 Ricciardo 36
4 Vettel 33
5 Raikkonen 28
1 Mercedes 114
2 Ferrari 61
3 Red Bull 57
4 Williams 29
5 Haas 18
"I look forward to the battle though, that's what I'm here for. He's the benchmark."
Yet Rosberg has history on his side, with the previous nine winners of the first three races of the season having gone on to win the title each time.
Even Hamilton admitted that he has "no more jokers available" following a troubled start to his title defence.
He ran into further trouble at the start when he lost his front wing in a first-corner collision. And while he used some racing nous to work his way up to third at one stage, his challenge faded later in the race as he attempted to battle through with a damaged car that he likened to a "four-poster bed".
Ferrari's wretched fortunes also continued after Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen collided at the first turn, allowing Daniil Kvyat's Red Bull to slip past into third, which is where the Russian finished.
Vettel carved his way back through the field from 15th but blamed Kvyat for driving "like a madman" in a furious rant over the team radio.
"Kvyat's attack was suicidal," fumed the German.
"You came in like a torpedo!" Vettel barked at Kvyat before they stepped out to the podium, to which Kvyat shrugged: "That's racing."
The four-time world champion said: "I was very lucky to continue. It was a big hit with Kimi. I feel very sorry for Kimi but I was a bit in a sandwich between Kimi and Daniil and there was nothing I could do."
Rosberg, however, was unstoppable once he had overtaken Ricciardo at the exact moment the Australian's left rear tyre shredded on the third lap. He never trailed again, easing to the finish line with a two-stop strategy.
Rosberg became only the fourth driver to win six consecutive races - joining Vettel (nine), the late Alberto Ascari (seven) and Michael Schumacher (six) - after winning the last three of 2015.
His 17th career victory - more than any other non-champion driver - underlined how far momentum has shifted since Hamilton captured his third world title in Texas last October. That was also the last time Hamilton won a grand prix.
Ricciardo finished a creditable fourth after recovering from his puncture, while Raikkonen fought back for fifth.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE