Lewis Hamilton recovered from an early scare with a fuel leak even before the race started to win the Chinese Grand Prix in dramatic style with some fantastic overtaking moves.
The McLaren driver had a technical issue with the engine refusing to fire up and the rush to prepare the car caused a moment of panic for the engineers in the pits. With only seconds to spare, Hamilton was sent out to make it on the starting grid and drove an aggressive race to take the chequered flag in style.
By winning the Chinese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton has ended Sebastian Vettel’s run of victories thanks to a three-stop strategy over his rival’s two-stops. With better grip from the Pirellis, Hamilton was able to hunt down the championship leader and pass the tyre-hampered Red Bull in the final laps.
Mark Webber drove an outstanding race to come from P18 on the grid to finish third in the second Red Bull, ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg – both of whom led for long periods in a fascinating race.
Vettel’s race began to get complicated following a poor start off pole position, which allowed both McLarens to get past him into Turn 1. Nico Rosberg also made a good start and Sebastian had to fend off the Mercedes in the opening corners to keep track position.
The trio then ran in a queue covered by two seconds through the first stint, with Rosberg and the Ferraris close behind.
Mercedes then pulled a masterstroke by bringing Rosberg in on lap 12. The German emerged with a clear track and made the most of his fresh Pirellis, but was also helped by a chaotic few laps from the top three. As Hamilton’s tyre performance faded, Vettel surged past him using the Drag Reduction System on the back straight.
Button and Vettel then pitted nose to tail, but bizarrely Button pulled into the Red Bull pit box rather than his own! He was frantically waved on to the correct pit, slightly slowing both pit-stops, although Red Bull reacted quicker and got Vettel out ahead.
With Hamilton losing pace dramatically on his in-lap and being caught and passed by Felipe Massa, Rosberg’s new-tyre pace and uncomplicated out-laps really paid dividends. As the second stint started, Rosberg led Vettel by five seconds, with Button, Massa and Hamilton giving chase.
But while Rosberg and the McLarens were committed to three-stop strategies, Vettel and Massa had decided to go for just two.
The latter looked like the best plan once everyone had made their second stops just after half-distance, for though that put Vettel and Massa fourth and fifth behind Rosberg and the McLarens, they were matching the leaders’ pace and not allowing the top three to pull out a sufficient margin to stay ahead when they made their additional stops.
Hamilton was now on a charge, slicing down the inside of team-mate Button to take second on lap 35, and then quickly catching Rosberg after their third stops and diving past him into Turn 6.
Lewis then hunted down the two-stopping Massa and passed the Ferrari with ease on the pits straight with 12 laps to the flag.
Next in his sights was race leader Vettel and by lap 50 Hamilton was right with the Red Bull and attacking with the Drag Reduction System on the back straight, though the championship leader defended his track position by hugged the inside line at the hairpin every time the McLaren drew alongside.
Hamilton had to be creative and on lap 52, the McLaren driver got much better traction out of Turn 6 and swept through on the inside into the fast Turn 7. After that he quickly pulled away to take a sensational victory in a race that proved the sport’s new rules regulations is achieving everything in providing entertainment for the fans.
Rosberg fell behind Button when he ran wide trying to pass Massa. With an issue with fuel consumption and his tyres just too old to resist the three-stoppers, Massa was swiftly overtaken by Button, Rosberg and even Webber – who also became a factor in the podium battle in the enthralling final stages.
The Australian had made little impression in his first stint on hard ‘Prime’ tyres, but like Sepang last weekend, pitting three times gave him plenty of opportunity to gain ground in clear air – and saving the much quicker soft ‘Option’ for the final stint when everyone else was on Prime gave him a huge pace advantage, as Webber proved by taking fourth from Rosberg with a Turn 6 dive three laps from the end.
Lapping two seconds quicker than anyone else, the Red Bull was flying (setting the fastest lap in the process) and at the end of the penultimate lap, Webber passed Button to grab a sensational podium finish.
Massa had to settle for sixth, but could take satisfaction from outpacing Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso, who both lacked Massa’s speed and lost ground emerging into traffic after pit-stops. He just beat Michael Schumacher to seventh, the Mercedes having got clear of the midfield by making a very early first of three stops.
Renault’s Vitaly Petrov finished in ninth ahead of Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber. As for Paul di Resta, he continues to impress with his speed in the Force India and recorded another points finish with P11, ahead of Nick Heidfeld.
Adrian Sutil’s race in the second Force India was spoiled by contact with Sergio Perez, for which the Sauber driver was penalised with a drive-through.
Toro Rosso’s great qualifying effort turned to nothing, with the pair falling down the race order – with Sebastien Buemi finishing only in P14 behind Rubens Barrichello’s Williams, and Jaime Alguersuari retiring when a right-rear wheel fell off after his pit-stop. Behind Sutil, Heikki Kovalainen gave Team Lotus plenty to cheer by beating Perez and Pastor Maldonado’s Williams to P16.
So a fantastic race in Shanghai. The differences in tyre strategies while running the harder ‘Prime’ tyres compared to the softer ‘Option’ Pirelli offered plenty of overtaking moves and it made the Chinese Grand Prix a thriller. Both Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber drove a sensational race to victory and podium spot respectively.
As for Sebastian Vettel, he still leads the championship with 21 points but he must feel vulnerable as the competitiveness of the McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari is matching the performance of the Red Bull as Formula One heads back to Europe.
Race result from Shanghai, 56 laps:
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1h36:58.226
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +5.198
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault +7.555
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes +10.000
5. Rosberg Mercedes +13.448
6. Massa Ferrari +15.840
7. Alonso Ferrari +30.622
8. Schumacher Mercedes +31.206
9. Petrov Renault +57.404
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1:03.273
11. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1:08.757
12. Heidfeld Renault +1:12.739
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1:30.189
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:30.671
15. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
16. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault +1 lap
17. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
18. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault +1 lap
20. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
Fastest lap: Webber, 1:38.993
Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 12 laps
World Championship standings, round 3:
1. Vettel 68
2. Hamilton 47
3. Button 38
4. Webber 37
5. Alonso 26
6. Massa 24
7. Petrov 17
8. Heidfeld 15
9. Rosberg 10
10. Kobayashi 7
11. Schumacher 6
12. Buemi 4
13. Di Resta 2
14. Sutil 2
1. Red Bull-Renault 105
2. McLaren-Mercedes 85
3. Ferrari 50
4. Renault 32
5. Mercedes 16
6. Sauber-Ferrari 7
7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 4
8. Force India-Mercedes 4
Next race: Turkish Grand Prix, Istanbul. May 6-8.