SHANGHAI • Lewis Hamilton was dominant in winning the Chinese Grand Prix yesterday, but the Mercedes star predicted that he will face his biggest title challenge this season.
The three-time world champion, who started on pole, eased across the line 6.2 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel for his 54th career win and a record fifth in Shanghai.
After taking swift revenge for his defeat by Vettel in the Formula One season-opener, and claiming his 106th podium to go joint-second with Alain Prost on the list of drivers with most rostrum results, the Briton said: "I think it's going to be the closest championship race I've been involved in. Ferrari have done a great job, and so have we.
"Strength-wise we are stronger, but pace-wise, if anything Ferrari got a bit quicker this weekend and the gap's even closer."
The embryonic drivers' standings seemed to suggest as much, with the duo both on 43 points - the first time there has been a tie at the top since 2012.
Vettel also has expressed confidence that this year's outcome will not be a foregone conclusion in Mercedes' favour after exchanging fastest lap times with Hamilton in the last 20 laps or so.
CHINESE GRAND PRIX
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 37min 36.158sec
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +6.250sec
3 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +45.192
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +46.035
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +48.076
6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +48.808
7 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Toro Rosso +1:12.893
8 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 1 lap
9 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1 lap
10 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1 lap
1 Vettel 43pts
1 Hamilton 43
3 Verstappen 25
4 Bottas 23
5 Raikkonen 22
1 Mercedes 66pts
2 Ferrari 65
3 Red Bull 37
4 Toro Rosso 12
5 Force India 10
"I think we were a bit unlucky. It felt like we were the quickest, man," the four-time champion said over the radio. "We couldn't prove that, but next time we will."
The German, who was unlucky to have pitted just before a safety car and emerged stuck in traffic, later told reporters: "I think if we can challenge Mercedes again, that's very good news."
Max Verstappen, who started 16th, finished a surprise third to hand Red Bull their 100th podium.
Potential flaws in the regulations had dominated discussion after the first round in Melbourne, and it is still early days, but in Shanghai, any fears that overtaking would prove impossible under the new formula were given short shrift by by Verstappen and Vettel, who battled back from a poor start from row one with some brilliant passes.
Verstappen, whose aggressive driving has made him a Formula One fan favourite, overtook no fewer than nine cars on a dizzying first lap alone. His third place duplicated his result in Brazil last year when he recovered from 16th to reach the podium in heavy rain.
"Nine cars is quite a lot for one lap, but of course I'm very happy that it worked," said the 19-year-old, who was named Driver of the Day.
When it was suggested to him that his first lap resembled something out of a video game, he replied: "More or less! It felt a bit like that."
Daniel Ricciardo took fourth behind Verstappen after an furious late scrap between the two Red Bulls, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen finishing fifth ahead of fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes.
TWO-HORSE RA CE
I think it's going to be the closest championship race I've been involved in. Ferrari have done great, and so have we.
LEWIS HAMILTON , Mercedes driver, feels this season's F1 will go down to the wire.
Bottas was sixth despite starting in third. He apologised to Mercedes for an embarrassing spin while weaving to warm his tyres behind the safety car, which dropped him down to 12th.
"Really sorry, guys, for the amateur mistake," said the Finn. "I'll make up for it in the next race."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN