Lewis Hamilton’s drive to victory was perhaps the brightest highlight of today’s Chinese Grand Prix, driver-wise at least, as the McLaren man produced a stellar performance to win his first grand prix of the season. He did it with the combination of a three-stop strategy, great passing on track and that handy set of soft tyres he saved in qualifying. No one’s ever questioned Lewis’ pace, but this weekend his success was also based on some very smart choices.
But shortly before the race got underway we were wondering whether Lewis would be involved at all, with a fuel leak leaving his mechanics in a frantic dash to get the car to the grid. They did so with just moments to spare, and will be mighty chuffed they were able to given what was to follow.
From third on the grid the Brit slotted in to second behind Jenson Button at the start, remaining behind him for most of the opening stint.
But his pace seemed to fade as the laps were reeled off. He was passed by Vettel, and seemed all at sea as Felipe Massa got by shortly before his first stop. He exited the pits fifth, behind Rosberg, Vettel, Button and the Brazilian. He made his second stop on lap 26, which marked the beginning of his drive to victory. He was then able to cruise up on team-mate Button and on lap 36 put a tremendously gutsy move on his fellow Brit, sending one up the inside at turn one in a moment that undoubtedly caused several heart attacks on the McLaren pitwall.
Following his final stop Lewis was still running fourth, but was able to snatch third when the lapped Williams of Pastor Maldonado baulked Rosberg as he exited the pits. Hamilton seized the initiative to pass the Mercedes, and now had the bit between his teeth as he chased down the two-stopping Vettel and Massa. With ten laps to go he took Massa for second, and now had Vettel just 4.6 seconds up the road.
And with vastly superior pace he was quickly able to eliminate the Red Bull’s advantage. By lap 50 he was on the German’s tail, but Vettel was defending resolutely. Could Lewis find a way past?
He could. On lap 52 he took advantage of a better exit from turn six to breeze past Vettel in to 7. From there it was plain sailing, as Lewis pulled out a comfortable lead over the struggling Red Bull. Four laps later the win was his, the first time he has taken the flag first since last September’s Belgian Grand Prix and an absolutely crucial confidence boost following Vettel’s domination of the opening two races of 2011.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed,” Lewis said 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. 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.”
Hamilton now sits second in the standings, 21 points behind Vettel, as we head to the Turkish Grand Prix – a race he won last year.