SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton shrugged off accusations of selfish driving from beaten team mate Nico Rosberg on Sunday after the Formula One world champion led Mercedes to a Chinese Grand Prix one-two finish.
If the race ended in anti-climax, with the safety car deployed for the last two laps, the sparks flew afterwards when a seething Rosberg said Hamilton had compromised his race by driving too slow..
The flare up of tensions between the two, so evident last year, sent Mercedes bosses into fire-fighting mode when they might have hoped to have celebrated reasserting their dominance over Ferrari.
The team’s non-executive chairman and former triple champion Niki Lauda made clear whose side he was on.
“Sure, everyone drives selfish,” commented the Austrian. “What do you think these guys are here to do? I call them egocentric bastards.
“That is the only way to win and the only way to win the championship.”
Hamilton, who led from pole position and controlled the race pace to Rosberg’s discomfort, was unrepentant after celebrating a 35th career win — and fourth in China — that left him 13 points clear at the top after three races.
“It’s not my job to look after Nico’s race,” said the Briton, who could point also to the fact that he ended the day with the fastest lap of the race.
Hamilton’s second win in three races left him on 68 points with Vettel on 55 and Rosberg a further four points adrift.
“Great stuff, Lewis, great stuff, stellar weekend mate, it’s a full house,” Hamilton’s race engineer told him over the radio after he took the chequered flag.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who stunned Mercedes with a brilliant victory in the previous round in Malaysia, threatened again but his challenge faded in the second stint on the medium-compound tyres.
A third podium in as many races since joining from Red Bull was still a great result for the four-times champion.
Vettel would have been as relieved as any when engine failure on Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso brought out the safety car and thwarted any chance of Kimi Raikkonen overtaking his Ferrari team mate.
Hamilton started the race with his car aggressively angled towards the inside on the grid, seemingly to cover any attack from Rosberg, although he explained that was a simple mistake.
“You can’t reverse and park back up,” he said.
Once the lights went out, the Briton surged ahead of his team mate with Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams then running in pairs.
Raikkonen, who was left ruing another missed opportunity after qualifying sixth, surged past Williams’ Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas off the line to slot into fourth behind Vettel.
Although Mercedes were expected to regain their dominant stride in the cooler conditions, Ferrari kept the Silver Arrows honest for most of the early running when the track was at his hottest and the cars fitted with soft tyres.
They lurked within striking distance throughout the opening runs and at one point after the first pit stops, seemed like genuine contenders.
Vettel closed to within two seconds of Rosberg but fell behind after switching to the harder compound tyres as Mercedes shadowed Ferrari’s tactics to avoid being outfoxed by the Italians as they had been in Malaysia.
Williams, replaced by Ferrari as Mercedes’ closest challengers, had Massa and Bottas finish fifth and sixth respectively.
Romain Grosjean had a steady drive to claim the first points of the season for Lotus in seventh while Sauber claimed a double points finish with Felipe Nasr claiming eighth and Swede Marcus Ericsson rounding out the top 10.
Daniel Ricciardo, who endured another frustrating race in his underperforming Red Bull, was ninth with engine partners Renault holding up their hands and taking the blame.
McLaren continued their early season struggles with Fernando Alonso finishing a lap down in 12th, while Jenson Button dropped to 14th after picking up a time penalty for causing a collision with Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado.
Editing by John O'Brien/Alan Baldwin