SHANGHAI — Fernando Alonso's win at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday announced the Ferrari driver as a strong contender for the Formula One championship after a comfortable victory.
Alonso took the lead for good with 13 laps to go and won by 10 seconds ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen. Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes finished third, just two tenths of a second ahead the hard-finishing Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull's Vettel retains the championship lead after three of 19 races, but his advantage is just three points over Raikkonen, with Alonso moving up to third, ahead of Hamilton.
So authoritative was Alonso's performance that his team was cautioning him in the closing stages not to push too hard, only for the Spaniard to reply that he wasn't. After the race, he said he won while retaining "some pace in the pocket."
"It was a fantastic race for us from the start," Alonso said. "There were no big problems and the tire degradation was better than expected.
"In the two races we've finished we have got second place and victory, so our start of the 2013 season is very good. We are very optimistic for the rest of the season."
The victory was Alonso's 31st career win, tying him with Nigel Mansell on the all-time list, behind only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
In a race dominated by tire strategy, the front three runners all used their strong early pace on the softer tires to establish an early advantage and all pitted inside six laps.
While the likes of Vettel, McLaren's Jenson Button and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg — who all started on the harder tires — profited initially by moving to the front of the field, the early leaders used fresher rubber to reclaim the advantage in the latter half of the race.
Button finished fifth ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo put in a strong performance for a career-best seventh place, finishing ahead of Force India's Paul di Resta, Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Hulkenberg.
Raikkonen's effort in finishing second was made more creditable by the fact he drove most of the race with a damaged front nose and wing after crashing into the back of McLaren's Sergio Perez, who put the squeeze on the Finn, forcing him off the track, and then into the back of the Mexican's car.
DEFENDING CUP CHAMPION UNHAPPY: At Fort Worth, Texas, Brad Keselowski is pretty angry with NASCAR these days.
After another top-10 finish in Texas, the defending Sprint Cup champion says what he's seen lately has him questioning everything he believes in. He's not happy about it.Comment on this story
Before Saturday night's race, NASCAR confiscated the original rear-end housing from Keselowski's No. 2 Ford and the No. 22 of Joey Logano, his Penske Racing teammate. That could lead to penalties, including possibly suspensions, the loss of championship points and/or fines.
Both Keselowski and Logano recovered to finish in the top 10 at Texas.
A week earlier at Martinsville, Keselowski got a penalty for pitting outside his stall, a ruling he still disputes.
Kyle Busch won the Cup race for a weekend sweep at Texas.