Nico Rosberg defied suggestions that his Mercedes could not make its tyres last longer than the rest of the field and would not have the race pace to keep them at bay to claim his first F1 victory at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The German led an eventful race from start to finish, initially pulling away from team-mate Michael Schumacher and then resisting pressure from McLaren's Jenson Button
to take a comfortable 20-second victory over the Briton, while Lewis Hamilton
came through from his penalty-induced seventh on the grid to complete a Mercedes-powered podium.
All three drivers made perfect getaways, with Rosberg jumping out into an immediate lead which team-mate Schumacher floundered a little under pressure from row two. At turn one, however, it wasn't either Kimi Raikkonen
or Kamui Kobayashi
that proved to be the seven-time champion's biggest threat, but Button, who scythed around those ahead of him to challenge for second place. Hamilton, too, made gains off the line, vaulting from seventh to fifth as Kobayashi, in particular, got swamped.
Neither Red Bull
made the best of starts, with Mark Webber
slipping back to ninth and world champion Sebastian Vettel
getting excess wheelspin from the inside of row six and finding himself 14th after also experiencing the inevitable consequences of mid-grid rough-and-tumble. The contact was not as hefty as the thump that Bruno Senna gave Felipe Massa, however, but both cars managed to escape unscathed.
By the end of lap two, Rosberg was a second clear of the pack, the cooler conditions of the late Shanghai afternoon clearly suiting the Mercedes, and it was a surprise when the majority of the field stopped ahead of the German. Webber was the first to succumb, the left front on his RB8 showing the strain of coping with the more tortuous parts of SIC by lap six. Two laps later, and Vettel, Kobayashi - from eighth - and Nico Hulkenberg
followed suit, although the Force India
driver was also in need of a new nose.
Raikkonen and Hamilton provided a little extra excitement when they pitted together on lap ten, the pair recreating Hamilton's battle in and out of pit-lane with Vettel from a couple of seasons ago. This time, the McLaren
man came off best, the mechanics turning him around quicker than Lotus managed to handle Raikkonen, then leaving the Finn in no doubt who was coming out first as they headed for the funnel at pit exit. Surprisingly, however, Hamilton - like Button a lap later - was re-shoe'd with another set of Pirelli's soft 'option' tyre while the majority of their peers opted for the harder medium.
Mercedes, meanwhile, continued to pound around for another lap before Schumacher stopped, and went to lap 13 with Rosberg, although the younger German showed just how much he was struggling by locking up and running wide at turn six before making his stop. While both stops appeared slick, Schumacher's wasn't so, the 43-year old being mistakenly released as his front left changer reached for a replacement wheel gun. As a result he made it only part way around the next lap before being forced to park up. The German would prove to be the race's only retirement....
Although Malaysian GP hero Sergio Perez briefly assumed control of the race when Rosberg stopped, and Felipe Massa
took over when the Mexican exited for tyres, Rosberg was quickly back in front, passing the Ferrari
at the turn 14 hairpin. Schumacher's retirement promoted Button to second place, but the Briton was still close to five seconds behind as the race reached lap 20. McLaren
was already showing its intent, with Hamilton up into third, but the supposedly tyre-troubled Mercedes was still showing better performance on the medium Pirelli than its rivals could find in the soft.
Again, it was Webber who stopped first for a third set of rubber, the Australian ducking out of fourth place and allowing Raikkonen, Alonso, Kobayashi and Grosjean to move up. Vettel, meanwhile, has recovered to the lower reaches of the points, passing Perez for ninth after the Sauber drive recovered from a slow return from his stop. When Hamilton and Button followed Webber's lead, it became clear that most of the contenders were aiming for a three-stop race, but both Rosberg and Vettel continued to plug away, guessing that two stops may be the way to go for different reasons.