April 13th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Fernando Alono's 2013 championship has gained some much-needed momentum after the Spaniard took a comfortable victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen finished second, holding off pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages, while a fast-charging Sebastian Vettel just missed out on a podium and finished fourth.
Hamilton led off the start, followed by the Ferrari pair of Alonso and Massa, while Raikkonen made a poor start to drop to fourth from second on the grid. The early stages of the race were all about pit stops, as the drivers who started on the soft option tyres pitted early to put on the more durable medium prime tyres. Mark Webber, starting from the pit-lane after being excluded from qualifying, stopped at the end of the first lap, which proved to be an inspired choice as he was in amongst the leaders until he first crashed into Daniel Ricciardo and then retired with a loose wheel.
At the end of the race, the drivers who had started on primes and left their option run late were extremely quick. Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were the only front-runners to do so, and Vettel then proceeded to deliver laps that would have been reasonable in qualfiying. He caught Lewis Hamilton at over 3 seconds a lap and crossed the finish line just two tenths of a second behind the Mercedes driver.
Esteban Gutierrez provided the early action, braking too late at the end of the long back straight and destroying the front-right corner of his Sauber against the rear wing of Adrian Sutil's Force India. Sutil was particularly unfortunate as he was running well and looking forward to scoring good points.
But the most bizarre of all the incidents during the race involved Mark Webber. He first attempted to pass Daniel Ricciardo from much to far back into turn 4. Predictably, Ricciardo turned in and Webber cannoned into the sidepod of the Toro Rosso, spinning Ricciardo around and damaging his own front wing. Webber then pitted for new tyres and a new nose, and emerged without a properly attached right-rear tyre. He tried to make it back to the pits very slowly and managed to get all the way to turn 13, but then the tyre came off and went rolling in amongst the traffic on the exit of the corner. Fortunately, everyone managed to avoid the tyre and Webber pulled over to stop on the side of the track. But he is likely to be fined for the incident, as the team knew the wheel was loose and should have stopped him immediately.
At the front, Alono's pace went virtually unchallenged. He was far enough ahead at the final pitstop to come out second, just behind the out of position Sebastian Vettel who still had to make a late stop for option tyres. Alonso made quick work of passing Vettel and then just disappeared into the distance. The Ferrari team told him not to push on the radio, but his relaxed pace was still too quick for those behind him to get close to him.
Vettel continues to lead the Drivers Championship on 52 points, just three points ahead of Raikkonen. Alonso is a further six points back in third. It's still early days in the championship, but Ferrari, Lotus, Mercedes and Red Bull appear to be the dominant teams. McLaren's race pace is much improved, but they still have qualifying issues.
The next race is next weekend in Bahrain, before the teams head to Spain for the start of the European season.