AP Auto Racing Writer
SHANGHAI (AP) -- 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 in which he claimed to have plenty to spare.
Alonso took the lead for good with 13 laps to go and won by 10 seconds from Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, with pole sitter Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes finishing 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 now just three points over Raikkonen, with Alonso moving into 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 gave his rivals something to think about in saying 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."
In a race dominated by tire strategy, the front three runners all used their strong early pace on the softer tire 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 tire -- profited initially by moving to the front of the field, the early leaders used fresher rubber to reclaim the advantage and fought out 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 McLaren's rear.
"What the hell is he doing?" the furious Raikkonen shouted on his radio.
"That didn't help but luckily it didn't affect too much the handling," Raikkonen said after the race. "Without the damage I would have been quite a bit faster."
Hamilton carried little expectation of victory into the race despite his pole position because the Mercedes cars had quickly degraded their tires all weekend, so the Briton was thankful to finish on the podium.
"They were a little bit too fast for us," Hamilton said. "My tires were shot at the end so there was nothing I could do to hold off Seb."
The two main casualties of the race were last year's winner Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and the luckless Mark Webber of Red Bull.
Rosberg came into the pits four times and was forced to retire before reaching the halfway point of the race, while Webber -- who started from the pitlane after his car ran out of fuel in qualifying -- charged up to 11th before crashing into Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, pitting, then emerging with a loose right rear wheel that came off before the lap was through.
If not for a premature retirement in the Malaysian Grand Prix, Alonso would be the championship leader, but the Spaniard was not yet ready to claim he is the title favorite.
"It's a little bit too early to say," Alonso said. "We maybe need to wait 'till after the summer break to see the clear contenders.
"Lotus, Red Bull and Mercedes are in the same position as us -- I don't see anyone has an advantage."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.