SHANGHAI — Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday for his first career Formula One victory after starting from pole position.
Rosberg won by an impressive 20.6 seconds over McLaren’s Jenson Button after making just two pits stops and managing to hold off the rest of the field on worn tires.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Rosberg said. “It’s really nice to see how quickly we are now progressing. We didn’t expect to be that fast today.”
Button’s McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton was third, followed by the Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel, the defending champion, started 11th and at one stage moved up to second, but couldn’t hold off Button, Hamilton and Webber in the closing stages.
With his third third-place finish of the season, Hamilton takes the lead in the driver standings with 45 points, two ahead of Button. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari is third with 37 points, followed by Webber (36) and Vettel (28). Rosberg moves into sixth with 25.
McLaren leads the constructor standings with 88 points, followed by Red Bull with 64 and Ferrari with 37.
Rosberg’s teammate, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, started the race second, but retired on lap 13 due to his right front wheel not being fitted properly during his first pit stop.
Mercedes appears to have figured out the quick-tire degradation problem that led to disappointing results in the first two races of the year. Mercedes has been fast in qualifying this season but failed to keep up with other teams in races.
Rosberg, who took just one lap in the final session of qualifying on Saturday to preserve his tires, said the team’s two-stop strategy paid off on Sunday.
“The tires lasted as many laps as we were hoping for so it all just went to plan,” he said.
The German also benefited from a sloppy pit stop by Button at the end of lap 39 when the Briton lost several crucial seconds and came out of the pit behind a pack of drivers.
As Button jockeyed with Vettel, Webber, Hamilton and Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean for position, Rosberg was able to widen his lead to 25 seconds and coast to victory.
The battle for second place featured wheel-to-wheel racing as Button and Hamilton eventually came out on top in the closing laps.
The final stages of the race also witnessed a spectacular collapse by Raikkonen, who also only pitted twice but was unable to maintain position as his tires slowly gave out. The Finn dropped from second to sixth on lap 48 and then slipped all the way to 12th on lap 49 before finishing 14th.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.