2013 Chinese GP: Fernando Alonso rises above the chaos to claim a convincing victory
Kimi Raikkonen second as Lewis Hamilton hangs on to final podium spot ahead of the fast-finishing Sebastian Vettel
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 01/08/13 9:48am
On an afternoon of slow-burning drama which saw a multitude of different leaders across the 56 laps as the field operated from a variety of different strategies, Alonso's victory ultimately boiled down to a matter of straightforward simplicity with the F138 proving to be a far quicker race car than either Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus or Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes were on an identical tyre strategy.
Gauntlet thrown down in a well-balanced car without apparent weakness, Ferrari's resident genius is very much back in World Championship business after failing to trouble the scorers at Sepang.
"It was a fantastic race for us from the start to the end with no problems on the car," said Alonso as he celebrated his 31st grand prix win but his first since last July.
"It feels great. After the retirement in Malaysia we had some pressure to finish the race but in the two races we have finished this year, we have scored one second place and a victory, so definitely the start of this campaign is looking good. We are very optimistic."
Such was the extent of the Spaniard's superiority that upon being instructed to slow down by his anxious Ferrari team with ten laps remaining and his lead secure, Alonso's baffled response was to assure his pitwall that he wasn't even pushing.
"It's impossible not to push when you are racing but it is true that we perhaps had some pace in the pocket," admitted the Spaniard on the podium. His rivals may be wise to reflect on those ominous words with considerable trepidation.
After predictably bucking the trend by starting off on the medium compound and running his race in opposite fashion to the frontrunners, reigning champion Sebastian Vettel finished the race as the fastest car on the track and within half a second of Hamilton as the Mercedes driver abandoned his sagging pursuit of Raikkonen to protect a second successive podium finish. Such was the speed differential between worn and fresh tyres, Vettel had been over ten seconds behind Hamilton with just four laps remaining.
The Pirellis may not enjoy universal adulation, but there's no doubting their effectiveness when it comes to producing compelling, multi-layered entertainment. There have been nine different leaders in each of the three races run so far this season, with Sunday's race headed by five World Champions after Jenson Button eased his McLaren home in fifth place. The cream is still rising to the top.
For a while the weekend's riveting tale threatened to have a slightly messy end when no fewer than eight drivers were put under post-race investigation for allegedly illegally using DRS in a yellow flag zone but the stewards ultimately ruled that no further action would be taken against any of them.
Hamilton was at least one of the few drivers not left fretting over a possible penalty, but the Briton must be concerned at his Mercedes' inability to keep pace with either Alonso or Raikkonen. On a disappointing day for the Brackley team, Nico Rosberg's race had already unraveled before a mechanical failure resulted in his retirement, while Hamilton's victory hopes were effectively over after three laps when Alonso, followed by Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, swept past the W04.
From then on, the regal Alonso looked to be in cruise control, while Massa was never able to recover the ground lost when he was kept on track for an extra lap on the fast-disintegrating soft tyres. Such is the way of F1 life for de facto number twos.
The luckless Mark Webber will continue to bristle against any suggestion he should be saddled with the label of subordinate, but the Australian's season continues to lurch from one setback to another. The victim of friendly fire at Red Bull in consecutive races, the Australian was forced out of Sunday's grand prix this weekend after hitting the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne when a door which had appeared open was abruptly slammed in his face. The stewards, true to Webber's run of fortune at present, same matters in an altogether different light and handed the Red Bull a three-pace grid penalty for Bahrain. Talk about kicking a man when he's down.
Yet one driver's continued misfortune is another's gain and as Rosberg and Massa fell by the wayside, Button brought his McLaren team welcome relief in the form of fifth place ahead of Massa and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo.
There were points, too, for Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg, but this was a race which only belonged to one man.
A cut above the rest, Alonso's point has well and truly been made.