SHANGHAI • Lewis Hamilton said that he "redeemed" himself with a lightning start to win the 1,000th Formula One race in a windy and hazy Chinese Grand Prix yesterday.
He started from second but out-dragged Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas off the line and held the inside line to take the lead into the first corner before romping to a victory that gives him the championship lead for the first time in the third race this season.
He finished in 1hr 32min 08.734sec, more than 6.5sec ahead in the third Mercedes one-two in as many races.
Hamilton may have said that F1's milestone may not be of great importance to him but his sixth China win, 75th overall, gave him a six-point lead over Bottas (62).
He is 31 up on Sebastian Vettel (37), who was third after Ferrari ordered Charles Leclerc to move over for the German. Max Verstappen of Red Bull was fourth ahead of the young Monegasque.
Hamilton admitted it was "a little bit of a struggle", with Bottas quicker over the weekend.
While the five-time champion has not enjoyed the strongest start to the season and is still attempting to extract the best from his car, he has scored well with second in the Australia opener followed by two wins.
He acknowledged that in Bahrain, where the champions looked to be outpaced by Ferrari, he had inherited the win only after Leclerc's mechanical problem.
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 32min 08.734sec
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes +6.552sec
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +13.744
4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +27.627
5 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari +31.276
6 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull +1:29.307
7 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault +1 lap
8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point +1 lap
9 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo +1 lap
10 Alexander Albon (Tha) Toro Rosso +1 lap
OVERALL - DRIVERS
1 Hamilton 68pts 2 Bottas 62
3 Verstappen 39 4 Vettel 37
5 Leclerc 36
1 Mercedes 130 2 Ferrari 73
3 Red Bull 52 4 Renault 12
5 Alfa Romeo 12
This time, though, the victory was entirely deserved - "a shift in driving style enabled me to unlock a bit more the potential of the car".
"The start was obviously great, which was really the decisive moment of the race," said the 34-year-old, who has had problems with his getaways down the years. After that, it was fairly straightforward.
Finn Bottas, who pipped him to pole by 0.023 second, said: "I lost it on the start, honestly. Shame about the start, I got some wheel spin."
Fears that Ferrari's straight-line speed would be a threat early was negated with a three-second advantage to the Mercedes pair by Lap 3.
Vettel, who managed a podium for the first time this year, admitted that the Mercedes were "too quick right from the start" as Leclerc pulled off the same trick at his expense, darting ahead into third.
But, on Lap 11, the talented 21-year-old from Monaco was told on radio to let his quicker teammate pass.
"We do our job, stay focused," Leclerc, who protested briefly that he was pulling away, was told.
But the switch did nothing to make up ground on the leaders and it was behind the Mercedes that the battles went on.
Vettel, under pressure after a number of unforced errors going back to last season, had to go wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen after both pitted for fresh tyres.
Vettel, Bottas and then Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon, who missed qualifying after a nasty crash in final practice, all exchanged fastest laps. The Thai-Briton Albon was named "driver of the day" after battling from the pits and into the points.
In the end, it was Red Bull's Pierre Gasly who earned a bonus point for clocking the quickest lap of 1:34.742 and finished sixth.
On Lap 38 of the 56, Leclerc and Bottas had a skirmish. Leclerc then pitted and was momentarily held up by a comparatively sluggish change of tyres.
The next race is in Baku, Azerbaijan, in a fortnight.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN