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GP Week : Issue 218
17 GPWEEK.com // 17 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> CHINA PARTNERS: safety car or not, the winner of the Chinese Grand Prix was never really in doubt. Though Ferrari was closer to the Mercedes pair the race remained firmly in Lewis Hamilton's control from lights to flag. The Brit led every lap, bar the odd lap during the two pit windows, and held speed in reserve to be unleashed ahead of his second stop to safeguard his position at the head of the race. Like in Australia, Nico Rosberg was never a threat. Heading into the race there were concerns within the Mercedes camp that the red team had closed to gap sufficiently to challenge it on race pace. While in qualifying Hamilton and Rosberg demonstrated the superiority of the Mercedes over a single lap during practice, and in the previous race in Malaysia, the Ferrari had shown itself to be gentle on its tyres. In long runs there was little to choose between the two teams; Mercedes pace countered by Ferrari's ability to keep life in its Pirellis. The first phase of the race seemed to confirm that. Mercedes were able to open a small margin with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen doing their best to keep the two silver cars in sight. But as the race wore on Ferrari's challenge never materialised; Vettel could do little more than shadow Rosberg who, for a time at least, looked to be bottled up behind Hamilton. Thinking on its feet, Mercedes decided to use the softer compound tyre for its second stint. The warmer track temperatures played into the German team's favour, and perhaps against that of Ferrari, while careful control of his right foot saw Hamilton able to manage degredation towards the end of his second stint. Though the first three ran in close formation for a time it was never a concern to race leader Hamilton, who was able to accelerate away as his final stop approached. The pace of the Mercedes was confirmed in the final stint as both Hamilton and Rosberg opened a comfortable advantage to the third and fourth placed Ferrari's. It was a performance more familiar to the team's 2015 campaign, and the opening round of the season, but at the same time there was just a hint the squad was keeping more than a watchful eye on Ferrari. Every time Vettel pitted the silver clad team responded. Hamilton kept performance in hand ahead of sprinting away in the final laps of the middle stint rather than simply racing away. Mercedes may have won comparatively comfortably in the end but Ferrari did enough on Friday and Saturday to rattle the reigning world champion's confidence. Much of Raikkonen's fourth placed owed to a strong opening lap that saw him clear Valtteri Bottas in the run down to the first corner before moving by Felipe Massa midway around the opening lap. It set the Finn up for a strong race and importantly allowed him to run his own strategy, his pace mirrroring that of Vettel and demonstrating well the potential of the Ferrari's. There is little doubt the Scuderia is the cloest challenger to Mercedes as China finally painted a more accurate portait of the current order. Williams is clearly third best, though just who falls into fourth remains rather clouded. By rights it should have been Red Bull next but a poor lap in qualifying compromised Daniil Kvyat's race while an uncharacteristically poor race from Daniel Ricciardo meant the Australian was rather further down the order than his car deserved to be. Ricciardo's race was particularly scrappy; he went into anti-stall at