A terrific start off the line at the beginning of the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix combined with a combative and assertive display of controlled, thoughtful driving throughout the 56 laps of the race in Shanghai was enough to hand Fernando Alonso a comprehensive victory in China on Sunday.
It was a race of multiple pit and tyre strategies, all of which clouded the relative positions and strengths of teams and drivers until deep into the race, but once all the tactics shook out it was clear that no one had an answer for Alonso who had proven himself to be quite simply the best driver on the day.
A faulty throttle sensor for McLaren's Jenson Button and a pre-start fuel leak scare on Paul di Resta's Force India were both resolved in time for the cars to take their place on the starting grid in eighth and 11th place respectively, leaving Mark Webber on a brand new set of soft option tyres as the only car starting the Chinese Grand Prix from the pit lane following his penalty for running out of fuel in qualifying on Saturday.
As the lights went out, pole sitter Lewis Hamilton comfortably pulled away in the lead while Kimi Raikkonen bogged down and was immediately jumped by both of the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. There were no major incidents on the opening corners, but at the end of the first lap Paul di Resta had contact first with his team mate Adrian Sutil, and then with McLaren's Sergio Perez as they battled over 13th place. No one needed to take to pit lane, however, with the exception of Webber who made a virtue of his start from the back by immediately pitting to change to the prime tyres having got his mandatory stint on the options out of the way while circulating at the back of the field.
Hamilton continued to lead the race but once the DRS was activated on lap 3 he was under mounting pressure from the two Ferraris behind him. Finally at the start of lap 5 Alonso blasted past him down the start/finish straight, and when Hamilton attempted to defend the position he left the inside line exposed for Massa to jump him as well. Hamilton had to concede the loss and focus instead on fending off Raikkonen for third place until he could get round to the pits to ditch the despised short-lived options.
The DRS activation had sparked a number of scraps right through the field, with Daniel Ricciardo forced to pit for a new front wing and Adrian Sutil's rear wing getting demolished by Esteban Gutérriez outbraking himself into turn 14 and rear-ending the Force India. The Sauber came to a crumpled halt in the run-off while Sutil limped back to the pits, but any efforts to change the rear wing came to an end when a fire broke out in the car's rear right brake duct.
Massa took charge of the race on lap 7 after Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Rosberg all pitted, but by keeping Massa out for an extra lap Ferrari had made a critical error, since the extra time spent on the options cost the Brazilian hugely and saw him return to the track behind Webber who was up to 11th place, although he quickly passed the Red Bull again with the aid of DRS.
With that initial round of pit stops completed for those that had started on the options, it was those drivers who had elected to start on the prime tyres and who had no need to come onto pit lane yet who were now in charge: Nick Hülkenberg emerged as the race leader ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Sergio Perez and Paul di Resta, with Fernando Alonso now in sixth place ahead of Hamilton and Raikkonen. The fresher tyres coupled with DRS meant Alonso made short work of Perez and di Resta, but Hamilton was having a harder time of it trying to follow in the Ferrari's tyre marks.