Rosberg's in luck amid Hamilton's wave of woe
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
Lewis Hamilton walked into Mercedes' hospitality, shared a warm embrace with his team chief and sat down to conduct his media duties with a smile.
"Difficult one," he whispered in Toto Wolff's ear. No tantrums, no outbursts. If Hamilton is to wrest this season back in his favour after a litany of mishaps, he will have done it as a true champion, in and out of the car.
Positives were hard to find after a disastrous and chaotic Chinese Grand Prix but Hamilton managed to locate a couple in a tidal wave of misfortune.
The weekend began with a five-place grid penalty, worsened when he was unable to qualify due to mechanical trouble, before the race brought damage on the first lap, along with five pit stops. Seventh was the best he could have hoped for in his injured Mercedes.
Perhaps the biggest source of optimism, other than finally managing a good getaway, was when the Mercedes public relations man pointed out a flaw in Hamilton's calculations.
The three-time champion feared that Nico Rosberg, who on the basis of this start to the season should spend the two weeks until the next race in Russia in a casino, was more than 50 points clear.
Instead the gap is 36; a mountain to climb but manageable with 18 races left in this marathon season.
After Hamilton was caught up in the melee of the first corner, triggered by the two Ferraris tangling, this performance gives him plenty of encouragement.
The defending champion made an astonishing 18 overtakes and was passed only twice, despite driving what he likened to a four-poster bed. He was a bit like a yo-yo, clawing his way through the pack only to fall back again every time he had to ditch his ruined tyres.
Rosberg, on the other hand, was like a rocket ascending into space. Other than briefly losing the lead at the start before Daniel Ricciardo suffered a puncture - yet another piece of good fortune for the German - he was serene. By the end he was 38 seconds clear, a lifetime in Formula One.
The omens are mightily good for the 30-year-old, who will have to defy history to lose the championship from here. On the nine previous occasions that a driver has won the first three races of the season, they have been crowned at the end of the year.
Rosberg's 17th career victory also will have pleased Stirling Moss, watching at home in Mayfair. The legendary Englishman has finally lost the most unwanted record in the sport: the highest number of career victories without winning a title.
Rosberg flew back to his wife and baby daughter last night a deeply satisfied man. Hamilton, meanwhile, heads to Berlin for the Laureus Awards before going to the Mercedes factory tomorrow to try to regroup.
If Rosberg's race was largely anonymous, delivering all he needed to do just as he did in Australia and Bahrain, a frenetic affair produced plenty of stars.
Hamilton was one of them, but arguably Ricciardo (fourth) and Sebastian Vettel (second) shone even brighter. Throughout the field the racing was fair but firm. With a plethora of tyre strategies, you would have needed a manual to follow this one, but it was entertaining all the same.
The chaos began at the start. Both Red Bulls made bursts off the line, Ricciardo took the lead, while Daniil Kvyat dived down the inside of turn one.
The Russian saw a gap, catching Vettel unaware. Vettel moved to the left, hitting team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had swerved back on to the racing line.
The four-time champion lambasted Kvyat for a "suicidal" move, confronting the young rival in the podium ante-room afterwards.
Vettel also made countless guilt-ridden radio messages to his engineers, but in truth no one was especially to blame. It was just typical first-corner mayhem.
All behind tried to avoid the debris but it was inevitable that others would be caught up in the carnage.
Felipe Nasr swerved to avoid Raikkonen, hitting Hamilton. His wing went under the floor, damaging the car. Only a safety car after two laps and some superlative overtaking salvaged Hamilton's race.
It was here that Vettel, the driver of the day, seized his moment, dashing past two sauntering cars on the entrance to the pits. After the pace car peeled in, he went from 15th to fourth in six laps.
Briefly this left Fernando Alonso in an unlikely third in his McLaren, and Englishman Jolyon Palmer in seventh.
Unsurprisingly, both McLarens finished out of the points, while Palmer was last. A weekend to forget for the 25-year-old.
While Hamilton and Raikkonen recovered to respectable points finishes, Ricciardo swept the opposition aside. It says something that, despite his early puncture, the Australian still finished only seven seconds behind his team-mate Kvyat, who was third.
But it was Rosberg on the top step, sipping the champagne. (©Daily Telegraph, London).