Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton storms to thrilling victory
Lewis Hamilton claims first victory of 2011 after chasing down Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in China
Lewis Hamilton ended Sebastian Vettel’s 100 per cent record in 2011 with victory at a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
The McLaren driver made better use of his fresher Pirelli tyres from a three-stop strateg to pass the defending champion in the closing laps.
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber produced the drive of the day to take the final podium place as he passed Jenson Button on the penultimate lap, despite starting 18th on the grid.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed,” said Hamilton afterwards. “It feels like a long time since I was sitting here. I am proud and grateful for all the hard work I have put in. I will continue to push and looking forward to many more like this.
“I think today the strategy that we came up with going in to qualifying definitely helped. Our new option tyres seemed to last a bit longer than the guys in front.
“It was quite a few things that came together. The pit stops were fantastic, the guys were pushing to improve, the car felt great.
“I was trying to nurse my tyres and trying to pick up the pace. The guys in front of me had to do a lot of overtaking. Thumbs up to the guys back at factory, who put their heart into making the car what it is on the GP weekend. It feels amazing.”
Nico Rosberg was fifth for Mercedes ahead of the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, who finished 30 seconds behind Hamilton.
Michael Schumacher, who started 14th on the grid, achieved his pre-race target of finishing in the points with eighth, ahead of Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Hamilton very nearly failed to make the start after the team discovered a fuel leak problem on his car as they tried to fire it up in the garage.
After a frantic few minutes, mechanics sent Hamilton to the grid without the rear damper attached with less than 30 seconds before the pit lane closed.
A poor start from Vettel allowed Button and Hamilton through into the first corner, while Rosberg also closed up and Massa jumped Alonso.
The race never settled into a procession as in previous seasons, with plenty of overtaking up and down the order as a result of different strategies and tyre selections.
Once the final pit stops had been made, Vettel led from Massa, Rosberg, Hamilton and Button all within eight seconds of the lead.
Rosberg’s chance of a podium ended when he was warned that his fuel level was critical and had to ease off, allowing the McLaren pair to get past easily.
Hamilton then set about chasing down Massa and got ahead of the Ferrari driver on the exit of the last corner before setting his sights on a struggling Vettel.
With superior tyres, and DRS available once he got within a second, Hamilton was able to ease past Vettel up the inside into Turn 7 to take the lead.
Button was unable to get close enough to Vettel to make a difference, and his podium dreams looked slim as Webber, over two seconds quicker than anyone else, had superior drag to cruise past on his way to finish just 7.5s behind Hamilton.
Vettel retains his lead in the drivers’ championship with 68 points, with Hamilton now in second with 47, while Button has 38, one point ahead of Webber.
Webber’s podium also maintains Red Bull’s position at the top of the constructors’ championship with 105 points to McLaren’s 85.
Ferrari are in third with 50 points ahead of Renault with 32, and Mercedes with 16.