Nico Rosberg kept it neat and tidy and avoided all pit stop woes as he raced to his maiden Formula One victory in the Chinese GP.
Starting from pole position, Rosberg pulled away from the chasing pack - led by his team-mate Michael Schumacher - and only relinquished the lead in the pit stops.
Despite concerns about Mercedes' tyre wear, Rosberg needed just two stops to win his first grand prix by 20.6s over Jenson Button, who fought his way back from a pit stop error. Button's McLaren mechanics struggled to attach his left rear in his final stop, costing the Brit dearly as he dropped well down the order.
Lewis Hamilton finished third ahead of the Red Bulls in a race that exploded into life in the last 11 laps.
A typical Shanghai haze hung over the Shang circuit before the race start with temperatures at 22C ambient and 24C on the track. "Warm enough" said Jenson Button before the start, mindful that he'd had trouble getting his front tyres to work when it had been cooler. Jean-Eric Vergne had changed the bodywork of his Toro Rosso and so would start from the pitlane.
1.Rosberg, 2.Schumacher, 3.Kobayashi, 4.Raikkonen, 5.Button, 6.Webber, 7.Hamilton, 8.Perez, 9.Alonso, 10.Grosjean 11.Vettel, 12.Massa, 13.Maldonado 14.Senna, 15.Di Resta, 16.Hulkenberg, 17.Ricciardo, 18.Vergne, 19.Kovalainen 20.Petrov, 21.Glock, 22.Pic, 23.de la Rosa, 24.Karthikeayn
Nico Rosberg got an amazing start from P1 and sprinted into Turn 1 unchallenged. Behind him, Michael Schumacher was able to keep P2 without much trouble. It was the second row of Kobayashi and Raikkonen coming under pressure from the two fast-starting McLarens who suffered. Button worked his way past Raikkonen into P3 and Hamilton went wheel to wheel with Kobayashi who lost momentum and the place to both Hamilton and his team-mate Perez.
Further back Mark Webber got another bad start and lost places, but not as bad as team-mate Sebastian Vettel who was very slow away. "Normally I'm quick, but today I was very late" admitted Sebastian after the race. As a result he got stuck behind the Williams and even found himself duelling with one of the Caterhams.
Bruno Senna missed his braking into Turn 1 and lost parts of his front wing on the back of Felipe Massa's Ferrari (but didn't need it replaced), elsewhere there was contact in front as carbon fibre flew past Senna's onboard camera.
On the opening lap Mark Webber managed to get past Alonso and then Alonso retook him at the end of the lap.
Positions at the end of Lap One
1.Rosberg, 2.Schumacher, 3.Button 4.Raikkonen, 5. Hamilton, 6.Perez, 7.Kobayashi, 8.Alonso, 9.Webber, 10.Massa, 11.Grosjean, 12.Senna, 13.Di Resta, 14.Vettel
After the opening flurry of activity things settled down. Jenson Button had Kimi Raikkonen in the DRS tow and behind Kimi, Lewis Hamilton had Sergio Perez in the tow, but nobody was making a move. Everyone was wary of pushing too early in a race where tyre management would be critical.
Mark Webber pitted for new tyres at the end of Lap 6 and rejoined the race in P20. At the front, Nico Rosberg was steadily going away from Michael Schumacher and by Lap 7 had a 3.5 second gap. Michael Schumacher now had a train of Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Perez and Kobayashi.
This all changed on Lap 9 when other teams started to pit (with Mark Webber quickly reducing the fastest lap behind them all). Kobayashi and Vettel came in on Lap 9; Raikkonen and Hamilton on Lap 10; Button on Lap 11; and Schumacher, Alonso and Senna on Lap 12.
Hamilton and Raikkonen exited the pitlane side by side, the Lotus being released straight into the path of the Mclaren and running side by side down the pitlane till Kimi ran out of room at the end. They rejoined the track right by Mark Webber and though Lewis Hamilton was able to get past the Red Bull, Kimi could not, trying very hard at Turn 6 where Mark closed the door on an outside move from the Finn.
Rosberg was able to keep his pace the longest and while he was pitting on Lap 13 eyes turned to Michael Schumacher who'd just lost a place to Jenson Button in the pitstops. There had been consternation in the Mercedes pit directly after Schumi had been released from his pitbox and later in the lap he had to park the car with a loose wheel. (The FIA would investigate for an unsafe release).
With Rosberg pitting, this left Sergio Perez in the lead from Felipe Massa who'd started on the harder tyre.
Positions on Lap 14: 1.Perez (not stopped), 2.Massa (not stopped), 3.Rosberg, 4.Button, 5.Hamilton, 6.Webber, 7.Raikkonen, 8.Alonso, 9.Kobayashi, 10.Grosjean, 11.Vettel, 12.Senna, 13.Ricciardo, 14.DiResta.
When Perez finally pitted on Lap 16 he exited just in front of Sebastian Vettel in P10, while Massa would fall to P14 when he came in at the end of Lap 18.
On Lap 19 Rosberg led from Button and all the pre-race predictions, that the Mercedes would eat up its tyres were not coming true. The reverse was the case with the W03 able to run longest on the soft compound Option.
The gaps on Lap 20 were: Rosberg 4.7 to Button 2.1 to Hamilton 3.4 to Webber 0.6 to Raikkonen 0.5 to Alonso. But just as we got a settled running order established Mark Webber kicked off the second round of pit-stops by coming in at the end of Lap 21. With the Aussie just three seconds behind the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, the team reacted by bringing Lewis in for his second stop - and a lap after that Jenson Button.
Button was released behind Vettel and Perez, but Hamilton was re-inserted behind Felipe Massa, and because Massa had relatively new rubber, proved difficult to overtake. Hamilton finally took him with a hestitant pass at Turn 6 on Lap 26 and a lap later Webber was past as well at the same turn
Meanwhile Button using his DRS and younger tyres was able to get past Perez and then Vettel and by Lap 31 it was looking promising for the Brit. He was putting in 1:41s while Rosberg ahead could only manage 1.43s. On Lap 32 Button showed his intent by putting in the fastest lap of the race so far with a 1:40.908
Positions on Lap 33: 1.Rosberg (one stop), 2.Button, 3.Perez (one stop) 4.Hamilton, 5.Webber, 6.Alonso, 7.Massa (one stop), 8.Raikkonen 9.Kobayashi, 10.Maldonado, 11.Vettel, 12.GrosjeanNow Hamilton found himself stuck behind Sergio Perez, the Sauber having great top speed down the long back straight and enabling him to defend in the one place Hamilton would hope to get past using DRS. Perez locked his front tyres on several occasions and the delay allowed Mark Webber to close up and even try an unlikely move round the outside of Lewis Hamilton into Turn 6 on Lap 34. Raikkonen had failed to get past Webber there and Webber failed to make it stick as well.
Webber pitted for tyres, Hamilton soldiered on behind Perez and Alonso took advantage by closing right up to the back of Lewis Hamilton until Perez finally pitted on Lap 35 (to rejoin in P13). This finally allowed the McLaren to charge off in pursuit of his team-mate.
Mark Webber's interesting afternoon got even more spectacular when he launched his Red Bull RB8 off the kerbs at Turn 13 and the car was temporarily airborne. Webber survived the moment and carried on regardless. He was anxious to keep in touch with the Hamilton vs Alonso battle, having stopped earlier than the pair of them. They both duly stopped on Lap 38 and McLaren showed that they are up with the speed of the Ferrari pitstops by keeping Hamilton in front. They were both able to keep their position in front of Perez.
A lap later and Jenson Button came in for a stop that would rob him of any chance of victory. With Rosberg stopping on Lap 34 (for his second of what would be two stops) Button was now in front on the road. But problems with the left rear tyre delayed Jenson a precious extra six seconds and instead of leaving the pits behind Rosberg and in clear air, he was stuck behind Vettel who was stuck behind Raikkonen. They were both going to run out of tyres sooner or later, but JB was held.
Positions on Lap 42: 1.Rosberg 2.Raikkonen, 3.Vettel, 4.Button (3 stops), 5.Grosjean, 6.Webber (3 stops), 7.Senna 8.Hamilton (3 stops), 9.Maldonado, 10.Alonso (3 stops). 11.Perez
On Lap 43 Fernando Alonso shaped up to overtake Pastor Maldonado, ran wide onto the marbles and off the track losing a place to Perez in the process. At this stage, the circuit looked to have an avenue of the racing line surrounded by tyre marbles and any driver venturing off them had to be pretty certain it was worth the excursion.
By this point in the race Rosberg had a 23 second cushion to Kimi Raikkonen who was holding up a train of cars from his position on ailing tyres in P2. Such was the fear of the marbles that he had gathered seven cars behind all keen not to get it wrong and lose loads of places to the cars behind.
On lap 45 it all kicked off with Grosjean running wide and losing places. As he fought to regain his position he ran side by side with the Williams of Maldonado through Turn 12 and 13 and there was contact between the cars. Grosjean managed to keep in front down the back straight as Maldonado tried to get past the Lotus and Perez - using the Sauber's great top speed - tried to get past the Williams. Maldonado managed to outbreak both Perez and Grosjean, take the inside line at the hairpin and seemingly make the overtake on Grosjean. Grosjean used the wide line around the turn to cut back inside and re-take Maldonado before the final turn. It was great driving.
A lap later and Alonso was past Perez and on Lap 47 Raikkonen led an incredible train of 12 cars. Positions on Lap 47: 1.Rosberg 2.Raikkonen, 3.Vettel, 4.Button, 5.Webber, 6.Hamilton 7.Senna 8.Grosjean 9.Maldonado, 10.Alonso 11.Perez, 12.Kobayashi, 13.DiResta. - and there was 10 seconds between Kimi Raikkonen in second and Paul DiResta in thirteenth!
Lap 48 saw the most dramatic change of fortunes with Kimi Raikkonen finally overtaken by Vettel and being caught up in successive overtakes as he dropped from 2nd place to finish the lap behind Vettel, Button,Hamilton and Webber. As the chequered flag approached drivers decided to make their moves and Laps 48 to 51 saw the order thoroughly shaken up. Hamilton got by Webber when he went off-track in his attempts to get past Raikkonen too quickly.
Kimi's tyres had fallen off the cliff and he ended up in P12 at the end of Lap 49 - mugged by everyone. Button passed Vettel going into the hairpin and then Hamilton began to shadow Vettel with Webber right in his mirrors.
Further back Sergio Perez even forced his own team-mate onto the grass going into the braking zone of the hairpin, but Kobayashi managed to keep control of his car and got the car braked to make the overtaking move. Perez then fell back and on Lap 54 the timing screens showed that Maldonado, Alonso and Kobayashi crossed the line together - separated by 0.00 of a second and going into Turn 1 three abreast. Maldonado held out from Alonso and Kobayashi.
A lap later and Hamilton outbraked Vettel into the hairpin and the World Champ almost got him back going into the final corner - causing Hamilton to do some creative car positioning on the following straight. Mark Webber tried to come past, too, but was able to pass his team-mate on the penultimate lap as Vettel's tyres gave up. (A geat move round the utside of the hairpin)
Up ahead of this mayhem Nico Rosberg had a serene 20-second advantage and was able to bring the car home for an un-pressured debut win. Button was second but thought he could have made the winner work a lot harder. Hamilton finished third in front of Webber, Vettel in fifth, an excellent sixth place from a recovering Grosjean. Bruno Senna had far less dramas than his team-mate to take seventh place whereas the onboard camera of Maldonado saw a tremendous amount of action.
It had been a spectacular grand prix and unlike most, had exploded into life in the last 10 laps. Mercedes were unused to the idea of celebrating or finding their way to the podium, but given that Rosberg has proved that he can keep his Pirellis intact - it won't be his last visit this season.
1. Rosberg Mercedes 1h36:26.929
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 20.6
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 26.0
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 27.9
5. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 30.4
6. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 31.4
7. Senna Williams-Renault + 34.5
8. Maldonado Williams-Renault + 35.6
9. Alonso Ferrari + 37.2
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 38.7
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 41.0
12. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 42.2
13. Massa Ferrari + 42.7
14. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 50.5
15. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 51.2
16. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 51.7
17. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:03.1
18. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
19. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
20. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
21. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
22. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
23. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 3 laps