For the first time in Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One career he has now taken the chequered flag for three consecutive races, even though the one in China caused confusion by being waved prematurely.
At the end of lap 55 of the 56-lap Chinese Grand Prix, a dominant Hamilton was shown the sport’s traditional emblem as he crossed the line, and for a second he allowed himself to pause.
If the race had been as close as it was a fortnight ago when he beat Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by exactly one second, such a lift off the gas could have proved extremely costly.
On this occasion, with an 18-second cushion to Rosberg, there was no cause for consternation, only a red face for the embarrassed flag bearer, understood to be mortified given his considerable experience. Hamilton was quickly told by his team to complete the last lap, so taking the flag for a second time around 100 seconds later.
Under article 43.2 of the sporting regulations, however, the race has effectively been rewound by two laps, with the classification taken after lap 54.
The article reads: “Should for any reason the end of race signal be given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps, or the prescribed time has been completed, the race will be deemed to have finished when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was given.”
From his perspective inside the cockpit of his so far mercurial Mercedes, Hamilton said: “That was very strange!
“I thought: ‘am I seeing things?’ As I crossed the line expecting to do another lap, I looked up for a split second and I saw the flag. I lifted for a second, but I saw there was no-one on the wall (of the Mercedes pit who would be there to greet his win). I asked the team (whether the race had finished) and they said no, so I just kept going. Very, very strange. If I’d thought about slowing and the radio had failed, and then Nico came by, then that would have really sucked. Thank God it didn’t.”
Instead, Hamilton now has three successive wins to his name, and 25 in his career – with three of those in China – after leading from lights to flag.
Despite the string of wins, however, Hamilton still trails Rosberg by four points in the drivers’ standings after the German again finished runner-up for the third consecutive time.
A technical failure in the season-opening race in Australia, won by Rosberg, is so far costing the Briton dear, but there was no doubting his delight at his latest success. “I can’t believe how amazing the car is, and with how hard everyone has worked; the results we are getting are because of that,” he said.
“It feels incredible to get three wins. I have to shout out a big thank you, thank you so much to the team, for all the hard work and them continuously pushing forward. I’m so happy. I had such a great race, really enjoyed it, especially the last few laps.
“This team is on a roll, they’ve done a great job, but we’re going to keep pushing, keep moving forwards and working hard because we know the others are going to keep pushing.”
Not since 2005 and Renault has a team won the first four races of a season, with seemingly little threat being posed by their rivals. Fernando Alonso lifted Ferrari on to the podium for the first time this season on Marco Mattiacci’s debut as team principal.
Behind the Spaniard were the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and four-times champion Sebastian Vettel, who at one stage disobeyed an order to allow his team-mate to pass him.
Vettel had to have the scenario as to why he should do so explained to him, with the 26-year-old German eventually relinquishing, finishing fifth to leave him trailing Rosberg by 46 points.
Vettel said: “I moved over for Daniel once I knew we were on different strategies. When I was first asked, I didn’t understand.”
On a bad day for McLaren, Jenson Button could only manage 11th, with rookie team-mate Kevin Magnussen 13th, whilst Marussia’s Max Chilton was 19th of the 20 finishers.