Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes back on top with a win at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, but it may have come at a cost — another schism with teammate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton made sure there would be no repeat of Ferrari's surprising win two weeks ago at the Malaysian Grand Prix, conserving his tires to withstand a challenge by the Italian team's Sebastian Vettel and easily capture his fourth Chinese Grand Prix and the 35th win of his career.
Rosberg finished second again and angrily accused his teammate of holding him back in the race.
Hamilton's tire-conservation strategy ensured he could open up a sizeable lead over Vettel after the second pit stop, but Rosberg said at a tense news conference afterward that Hamilton's measured pace allowed the Ferrari driver to stay close to him and caused his tires to wear by the end of the race.
“It's just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front and unnecessarily that was compromising my race,” he said. “It was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result and it cost me a lot of race time.”
Hamilton responded by smiling and saying he didn't intentionally try to impede his teammate.
“It's not my job to look after Nico's race. My job's to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible and that's what I did,” he said. “I just was focusing on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried, but he didn't.”
Tire degradation is what cost Mercedes the race in the tropical heat of Malaysia two weeks ago, so the team was careful not to let it happen again on a warmer-than-expected track in Shanghai.
Hamilton kept his pace in check on soft tires throughout the first half of the race, prompting a frustrated Rosberg to say to his team over the radio, “Lewis is driving very slowly, so tell him to speed up.”
The British driver did speed up after Vettel pitted for the second time, clocking his fastest lap time of the day to build a substantial lead by the time he pitted and switched to hard tires a couple laps later.
Vettel faded after the second pitstop and trailed by more than 15 seconds when the safety car came out with two laps remaining after Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso car stalled on the track. The race came to an anticlimactic finish with the drivers rounding the circuit twice behind the safety car.
“We thought it would be a lot closer and we knew the Ferraris were very, very good with their long run pace and also looking after their tires,” Hamilton said. “So today the real goal was to manage the tires and my goal was to look after my car.”