Lewis Hamilton took a comfortable victory in the Chinese Grand Prix to take the championship lead for the first time in 2019.
The Mercedes driver passed team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who had taken pole position, off the line and controlled Formula 1’s 1,000th race from there.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took third, after the team ordered team-mate Charles Leclerc to let him by in the opening laps.
The decision led to Leclerc losing fourth place to Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.
And Ferrari’s young driver – who is only in his third race for the team – questioned the decision over team radio, saying: “but I’m pulling away!”
Ferrari will face questions about the wisdom of their approach to the race – and to team orders in general – but Hamilton was serenely distant from such concerns.
After taking the lead, Hamilton edged away from Bottas, building a five-second lead before his first pit stop on lap 22.
Mercedes’ decision to bring Bottas in first to protect from Vettel behind dropped the lead to less than two seconds, but Hamilton soon pulled away again to take his second victory in a row.
It was Hamilton’s 75th career victory, and it came on a weekend on which he had struggled throughout practice but pulled a lap out of the bag to grab a front row spot, which proved the foundation for his win.
Ferrari team orders controversy hots up
Ferrari were running third and fourth in the opening laps, with Leclerc ahead of Vettel after passing his team-mate at the first corner, when they made the call to switch drivers.
Vettel was sitting a second behind Leclerc and appeared to be able to go faster, so Ferrari ordered the Monegasque to let him past.
The decision was in line with Ferrari’s stated policy to favour Vettel in 50-50 situations, as re-confirmed by team boss Mattia Binotto earlier in the weekend. And it was made in an attempt to try to challenge Mercedes. But it triggered a set of circumstances that led to Verstappen beating Leclerc to fourth place.
Letting Vettel by cost Leclerc time and ensured Verstappen was closer to him. Vettel was unable to pull away – Leclerc sat just as close to his team leader as the German had to him. And he summed up the situation over the radio by saying: “Now what?”
It was a perceptive comment. With Verstappen just two seconds back, Red Bull triggered the pit-stop period.
That guaranteed he would pass Leclerc if he had pitted on the next lap, so Ferrari pitted Vettel to protect his position.
Vettel kept third – just – and now Ferrari thought about running Leclerc long to give him a tyre advantage later in the race.
But that did not work either, and Leclerc pitted on lap 22, only five after Verstappen, rejoining now 11 seconds behind the Red Bull solely because of his weaker strategy.
Leclerc began to catch Verstappen and had the lead down to three seconds within 10 laps only for Red Bull to out-think Ferrari again, bringing Verstappen in for a second stop on lap 34.
Again, Ferrari had to respond with Vettel – and Mercedes then also did to secure Hamilton and Bottas’ positions – and again Leclerc was the loser.
He was briefly into second place, but Bottas soon passed him and Vettel and Verstappen began to haul him in. Ferrari eventually pitted Leclerc on lap 42 and he rejoined now 14 seconds behind Verstappen – too much of a gap to make up in the remaining 16 laps.
Could Ferrari have better protected third and fourth if they had left the cars in their initial order? Is the decision to back Vettel for their title assault the right one? These questions will hang over Ferrari for some time to come.
Battles down the field
Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly took sixth, in a race of his own too slow to keep up with his team-mate and and too fast for everyone else.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo took seventh, ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The final point was taken by Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon, a fine drive after starting from the pit lane in a car rebuilt after his huge accident in final practice on Saturday.
Albon had pressure from Haas’ Romain Grosjean on the final lap but just managed to hold on.
Driver of the day
What happens next?
Baku in two weeks time. Ferrari might be favoured on the harum-scarum street track, because of its long, long straights. But who would ever bet against Mercedes?
What they said
Hamilton: “It has not been the most straightforward of weekends but what a fantastic result for the team.
“We arrived here not knowing how we would measure against Ferrari – they were so quick in the last race. Valtteri has been quick all weekend and to have a one-two is really special on the 1,000th grand prix. The start was where I could make the difference and after that it is history.
“It has been so close between us all and I really have no idea how the next race is going to turn out.”
Vettel said: “I felt I could go faster but then it was a bit difficult for me to find a rhythm. I had a couple of wobbles where I could not keep the advantage I was getting.”