Britain's Lewis Hamilton is expecting the toughest fight of his career for the world championship after striking back at rival Sebastian Vettel with victory in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Hamilton pipped Ferrari’s Vettel in Shanghai in a reverse of the opening race in Australia last month to go level with the German at the top of the standings.
It is already looking like a straight shoot-out between Formula One’s two most decorated current competitors as the Mercedes man looks to equal Vettel’s four drivers’s titles.
“It is going to be one of the closest if not the closest [title race] I have ever experienced,” said Hamilton.
“I am looking forward to this fight, not only with Sebastian, but the other guys as well who are in amongst it. Ferrari have done a fantastic job. We were both pushing and those last 20 laps. We were really exchanging times. He was closing the gap but I managed to stay ahead.”
Vettel’s hopes of catching Hamilton in China were hampered by the appearance of the safety car after Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi crashed, which allowed Hamilton to pit for a tyre change without losing ground.
He said: “I tried to chase Lewis down as much as possible but I had the feeling every time I put a lap in he was able to respond. We were a good match. It could have been a different race, but it was a good recovery.
“They are the ones to beat, they have a very strong team, doing very well the last three years being flawless and smashing a lot of records. So for us it is really good news we had another race where we were really close and were able to put some pressure on.
“It felt like we were the quickest. We couldn’t prove that, but next time we will. It is just race two. I really enjoyed it and at this point I don’t care about the rest of the year.”
Max Verstappen took the final podium place after battling through the field from 16th on the grid, with his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finishing fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen was fifth in the other Ferrari, just ahead of Hamilton’s colleague Valtteri Bottas.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso endured another frustrating outing as a mechanical problem with his McLaren forced the Spaniard to retire after 33 laps when running seventh.
Britain’s Jolyon Palmer took 13th for Renault.