Daniel Ricciardo won a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix after he took advantage of an excellent strategy call by his Red Bull team.

Max Verstappen collided with championship leader Sebastian Vettel, while an off-colour Lewis Hamilton finished only fourth.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look back at the key takeaways from the third instalment of this year’s intriguing Formula One season.

1. New year starts with a bang

The fear heading into the campaign was that Mercedes would dominate, and Hamilton did little to allay those concerns when he qualified some half-a-second clear of his rivals at the opening round in Australia.

But that super-quick lap will now be something of a distant memory for the defending champion and his team as their winless streak continued in China.

Indeed as the Formula One world gathered in Shanghai Pudong Airport on
Sunday night, the mood was one of excitement at the prospect of a fascinating three-way team battle for the remainder of the year.

Red Bull have work to do on their one-lap qualifying performance, but their fast-thinking decision to throw both Ricciardo and Verstappen on to new tyres, and their subsequent electric pace, suggests they could upset both Ferrari and Mercedes in the battle for this season’s championship.

2. Hamilton still looking flat

Lewis Hamilton has struggled so far this seasonLewis Hamilton has struggled so far this season (Andy Wong/AP)

In the hours after Sunday’s race, Hamilton cut a rather dejected figure in the Mercedes hospitality suite.

He looked weary, and seemingly aghast, too, at how his early-season advantage has been wiped out.

Hamilton could put his failures to win in Australia to a timing glitch under the virtual safety car, while a gearbox change and ensuing grid penalty in Bahrain thwarted his progress there.

But here in Shanghai, Hamilton was slow in qualifying and offered little in the race, too. It is rare for Hamilton to be out-qualified by his team-mate, but Valtteri Bottas was faster than the Briton, not only in Bahrain but again in Shanghai.

Hamilton needs an immediate response in Azerbaijan a week
on Sunday. Make no mistake; winning this year’s title could now be the hardest battle of his career so far.

3. Ricciardo proves his class

😊

A post shared by Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) on Apr 15, 2018 at 3:50am PDT

Ricciardo shed a tear as he stood on top of the podium, and who can blame him after a whirlwind fortnight?

A week ago in Bahrain, his race lasted less than five miles after his Red Bull died following a complete electrical shutdown.

Then, Red Bull boss Christian Horner revealed the Australian was just 45 seconds away from starting at the back of the pack in China following an engine blow-up in Saturday morning practice.

Sterling work from Ricciardo’s mechanics allowed him to participate in qualifying, but in starting from only sixth few would have predicted the Australian would be a contender for the win.

When presented with the opportunity however, Ricciardo did not disappoint. His moves on Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton and finally Bottas, were all world class, and with potential vacancies at Mercedes and Ferrari next year – while Red Bull are also desperate to retain his services – Ricciardo could have the pick of the paddock in 2019.

4. Vettel magnanimous in defeat

It is no secret that Vettel fails to contain his emotions, particularly in defeat, but the Ferrari driver showed great composure here despite Verstappen’s aggressive antics costing him a heap of points.

Hamilton departs from the Far East just nine points behind Vettel. The German had been on course to extend his 17-point lead over Hamilton before Verstappen’s  X-rated move.

Vettel was quick to accept the Dutchman’s apology and even made a point of seeking out his old boss Horner in the paddock to congratulate him on Ricciardo’s victory.

5. Conspiracy or coincidence?

Pierre Gasly during qualifying for the Chinese Grand PrixPierre Gasly during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix (Andy Wong/AP)

Pierre Gasly’s daft move on his Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley led to the deployment of the safety car and allowed Red Bull to stop both of their drivers for fresh rubber.

It was a sequence of events which won Red Bull the race. Casting our minds back to Australia, it was Vettel who took advantage of Haas’ pit-stop faux pas after they failed to properly fit Romain Grosjean’s tyre, and he stopped at the side of the track.

Vettel got the jump on Hamilton during the ensuing virtual safety car period and took the chequered flag. The point? Toro Rosso is the junior outfit for Red Bull. Haas is effectively Ferrari’s ‘B’ team. Just a coincidence? It must be…