Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai. File photo: Andy Wong / AP

Shanghai, China - Sebastian Vettel can complete a hat-trick of wins to start the season on Sunday but China also offers reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton a perfect opportunity to end his rival's run of success.

Hamilton has won the race on the outskirts of Shanghai an unprecedented five times, with his most recent triumph coming as recently as 2017 - and he'll be desperately hoping the Shanghai International Circuit delivers a sixth as he bids to claw back some of the 17-point deficit to championship leader Vettel in the overall standings.

"It's always been a good track for me," said Hamilton, who finished third in Bahrain on Sunday after starting ninth due to a gearbox penalty. "So I really hope that I'm able to climb the ladder and get back to where we've been working towards being in the last two races."

Wins in the Australian season-opener and Bahrain mean the momentum for the moment is with Vettel, the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to start the year with consecutive wins. The last time a driver failed to win the championship after winning the opening two races was in 1982, when Alain Prost started strongly but lost out to Keke Rosberg.

Poised for a record 

Hamilton can still take comfort from 2017, when he clinched his fourth championship despite Vettel also winning in Australia and Bahrain, which was the third race of that season. He can also draw encouragement from the speed and reliability of his Mercedes, with the Briton poised to set a Formula One record on Sunday of 28 successive races in the points.

Hamilton had a clear edge over Ferrari in Melbourne and team-mate Valtteri Bottas came within a second of snatching victory from pole-sitter Vettel in Bahrain.

"That was the minimum result we should expect," said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, "with both Red Bulls and Kimi Raikkonen out of the race - so we started to analyse what went wrong in Bahrain in order to improve for China and come back stronger."

Tricky

Defending Constructors' champion Mercedes has won the Chinese race five times in the past six years, including four in a row, whereas Ferrari last won it in 2013.

"It's a tricky one to get everything right," Vettel, also a four-time world champion, said in Bahrain. "But if we do, like this weekend, and we find the sweet spot, then I'm pretty confident that we can do well there as well."

Red Bull is also yet to show its hand, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen retiring in the first five laps in Bahrain. The former champion has finished on the podium in Shanghai in the past two years and could still make it a three-way fight.

"It will swing from race track to race track," Wolff said in Bahrain. "I think that's going to be the model of the season."