Nico Rosberg completed a perfect Chinese Grand Prix weekend by putting his Mercedes on pole and driving away from the field in a weekend of firsts for the Silver Arrows.
The race was going to be all about tyres as all teams tried to manage their tyre allocations on a track that demands much of the 2012-spec Pirelli rubber.
Practice and Qualifying
McLaren and Mercedes traded blows in the Friday and Saturday practice sessions. Hamilton's excellent pace was set in the shadow of McLaren announcing that he had to change his gearbox due to previously undiscovered gearbox cracks.
The first session of practice was wet, leaving the teams with a lot of work to do in the second session.
As has been the pattern this year, qualifying saw a big name fall out of the top ten. This time Sebastian Vettel qualified 11th, having previously decided to stick with Red Bull's earlier specification exhaust.
Teammate Mark Webber put in a strong performance in Q2 but faded to 7th in the final run, setting only one flying lap.
"The Q2 lap wasn't bad, but I didn't get the Q3 lap together as I would have liked," Webber said.
"It's a bit all over the place with pulling a lap time together on the soft tyre, but I would have liked to have finished a row further up."
After Hamilton's gearbox change penalty demoted him from 2nd to 7th, Kobayashi took an astonishing 3rd and Raikkonen 4th.
Another Mercedes-powered car was Jenson Button's in 5th with Fernando Alonso ninth, behind his Malaysian almost-nemesis Perez.
Off the start, both Mercedes got away strongly. Behind them, Button shot past Raikkonen while Kobayashi rocketed backwards.
Webber, too, went backwards with the Ferraris attacking hard and a fast-starting Hamilton flying by. Vettel fell back to fifteenth.
Bruno Senna continued his run of first lap incidents, barrelling into the back of Felipe Massa, causing some light damage to the Williams' front wing. Romain Grosjean made it to the third lap for the first time in 2012.
Webber stayed with the Ferrari of Alonso, badly needing to pass the Spaniard. Webber pitted on the seventh lap for the harder tyre and to get out from behind Alonso, dropping to 20th.
Schumacher's excellent weekend was over not long after - his pit crew released him without securing his right front wheel, the seven-time world champion parking the car a few corners later.
Vettel, Raikkonen and Massa clearly chose to go with a two-stop race which was a borderline decision and probably relied heavily either on rain or a safety car, neither of which eventuated.
After the pit stops had shaken out, the running order on lap 20 was Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Webber, Raikkonen and a dogged Fernando Alonso holding sixth.
Webber spent much of the last half of the race chasing down or duelling with Lewis Hamilton. The Red Bull driver had a huge moment after running wide, the kerb at turn 13 lifting the front of his car into the air.
For a split-second it looked as though the car was going to take to the skies as he did in Valencia in 2010, but it dropped back on to its front wheels and Webber continued as though nothing had happened.
Button's race looked like it was coming to him before he pitted on lap 40.
He and Rosberg were on different strategies and Jenson was in with a chance, but his race was done after a problem in the final stop, denying him the chance to come out in front of the battle group for third to sixth.
After Button's stop, Rosberg was 20 seconds in the lead and looked invincible from then on.
The battle for second, then, had seven drivers in it, all on slightly different strategies. Webber was fast but tearing through his tyres. Raikkonen and Vettel were quick, but couldn't afford to stop again.
Hamilton had been fighting all race, carving up back markers but had to pass Webber, and Alonso was threatening all the time. It was Alonso who fell first, firing off the track and falling to eleventh.
Raikkonen was second, initially succumbing to the relentless pressure of Vettel. In the space of half a lap, however, he fell from second to tenth as his tortured tyres could offer him no more and drivers on newer rubber and with better cars pushed past.
Five laps from the end, Rosberg was way out in front but Vettel had both the McLarens and his teammate behind him.
A lap later, Button made a late decision to pass Vettel at the end of the back straight, surprising the reigning champion. Like Raikkonen, Vettel, too, no longer had the tyres he needed and over the final laps he lost his place to Hamilton and then Webber.
Rosberg finished over twenty seconds ahead of Button, to the delight of his team and even his teammate Schumacher.
Hamilton came home third and Webber held fourth, Vettel fifth and Romain Grosjean finishing in sixth for Lotus.
Raikkonen, after such a heroic drive, left with just 14th and Ricciardo made almost no impact at all, finishing 17th, but on the lead lap.
Formula 1 returns - at this stage - next weekend at the Sakhir circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
1. Nico Rosberg - Germany - Mercedes-Mercedes 56 laps 1hr 36m 26.929s
2. Jenson Button - Britain - McLaren-Mercedes +00m 20.6s
3. Lewis Hamilton - Britain - McLaren-Mercedes +00m 26.0s
4. Mark Webber - Australia - Red Bull-Renault +00m 27.9s
5. Sebastian Vettel - Germany - Red Bull-Renault +00m 30.4s
6. Romain Grosjean - France - Lotus-Renault - +00m 31.4s
7. Bruno Senna - Brazil - Williams-Renault +00m 34.5s
8. Pastor Maldonado - Venezuela - Williams-Renault +00m 35.6s
9. Fernando Alonso - Spain - Ferrari-Ferrari - +00m 37.2s
10. Kamui Kobayashi - Japan - Sauber-Ferrari - +00m 38.7s
11. Sergio Perez - Mexico - Sauber-Ferrari - +00m 41.0s
12. Paul di Resta - Britain - Force India-Mercedes +00m 42.2s
13. Felipe Massa - Brazil - Ferrari-Ferrari - +00m 42.7s
14. Kimi Raikkonen - Finland - Lotus-Renault - +00m 50.5s
15. Nico Hulkenberg - Germany - Force India-Mercedes +00m 51.2s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne - France - Toro Rosso-Ferrari +00m 51.7s
17. Daniel Ricciardo - Australia - Toro Rosso-Ferrari +01m 03.1s
18. Vitaly Petrov - Russia - Caterham-Renault +1 lap
19. Timo Glock - Germany - Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
20. Charles Pic - France - Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
21. Pedro de la Rosa - Spain - HRT-Cosworth - +1 lap
22. Narain Karthikeyan - India - HRT-Cosworth - +2 laps
23. Heikki Kovalainen - Finland - Caterham-Renault +3 laps
- Interested in buying ? Visit our showroom for more information.