By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton raced to a hat-trick of wins in Sunday's Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, cruising unchallenged to the flag ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg as a dominant Mercedes claimed a third straight one-two finish.
The win was the 25th of Hamilton's career and drew him level with British legend Jim Clark and his current Mercedes boss, triple world champion Niki Lauda, in the all-time winner's list.
It is also the first time that Hamilton - who moved ahead of Clark to become the top British qualifier on Saturday - has managed to win three races in a row.
"I just can't believe how amazing the car is," said Hamilton, who led from pole and punched the air with both fists after parking up and leaping out.
"I was just really racing myself. This team is on a roll, that's for sure."
Fernando Alonso, winner of last year's race in China, finished third to give Ferrari their first podium of the season and the first under new boss Marco Mattiacci, who looked on from the pitwall.
"Being here on the podium is some kind of surprise for us, it's a nice surprise finally," the double world champion said.
"(I'm) happy with the podium finish today, third in the drivers' championship behind these two guys.
"So we didn't have the start of the season that we like but at the end of the day we are still in the fight."
Rosberg continues to lead the drivers' standings despite not having won a race since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix but Hamilton's three straight wins have allowed the Briton to close to within four points.
"THIS THING IS SO QUICK"
The 2008 world champion made a clean getaway from pole position and immediately showed his car's untouchable pace, the Briton extending his advantage over his nearest rival to a gaping 10.4 seconds by the end of the tenth lap.
Rosberg, however, was not as fortunate as his team mate and was on the back foot even before the start of the race with his engineers unable to view any telemetry information from his car.
The German was hoping to clear the two Red Bulls separating him from the Briton early on but his challenge never materialized after a poor getaway and a collision with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas dropped him down to seventh at the start.
"It was just very close," Rosberg said of the first corner contact with Bottas.
"There were cars all over the place and just had a bit of contact there and was grateful that my car held on."
The 28-year-old, who claimed his maiden grand prix triumph in China two years ago, was able to call upon his car's formidable pace to fight his way through the field, eventually crossing the line 18 seconds behind his team mate.
"It's really a pleasure, you know, to drive this car at the moment. It's incredible, the car that the team have built, fantastic," Rosberg said.
"This thing is so quick, you know," he added.
Daniel Ricciardo maintained his early season edge over Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel, the Australian crossing the line fourth ahead of the quadruple world champion.
However, the gloves came off in the battle between the two, with Vettel asked to let the faster Ricciardo through for the second race in succession.
"What tires is he on?" Vettel asked his team when instructed to let Ricciardo go past.
When told that Ricciardo was on the same tires as him, the 26-year-old responded by saying "tough luck."
Force India followed their Bahrain podium up with another double points finish as Nico Hulkenberg took sixth and Sergio Perez ninth.
The Silverstone-based team dropped a place in the constructors' standings to Red Bull, but are still an impressive third ahead of Ferrari.
Williams were once again left to ponder what might have been after failing to make the most of a strong qualifying result.
Bottas scored the team's only points in seventh, while Felipe Massa's race was ruined by a collision with Alonso's Ferrari at the start and a lengthy first stop as his crew struggled to change his left-rear tire.
McLaren failed to score a point for the second consecutive race, with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen crossing the line eleventh and thirteenth, respectively.
(Writing by Alan Baldwin, editing by Patrick Johnston)