Lewis Hamilton won the Chinese Grand Prix, breaking Sebastian Vettel’s stranglehold on F1 this season in a thrilling Grand Prix which featured the Holy Grail of a pass for the lead in closing stages of the race.
It was Hamilton’s first win since September last year and the fifteenth of his 74 race career.
And it wasn’t because of the DRS wing, the pass Hamilton pulled on Sebastian Vettel happened in Turn 7, one of the faster corners on the track, when Vettel least expected it and it came about because of differences of strategy.
Varying strategy and resulting overtakes was the story of the race and what made it such a thriller, as the new style racing really hit its stride. Drivers who went for three stops found that their tyres had life in them in the closing stages and they were able to make up places.
There were complaints after Malaysia that the DRS wing had made overtaking too easy, but here there were many passes which were not in the DRS zone, particularly from Hamilton and Webber, who recovered from 18th on the grid to finish on the podium, proving he is always at his best when chips are down. He might have beaten Vettel if he had not lost so much time in the first stint on hard tyres, where he actually lost a place to Sergio Perez.
KERS played its part in the overtakes, but this race was all about Pirelli tyres creating the spectacle.
Hamilton’s race wasn’t without its dramas. Before the start he had a drama on his car as the engine had flooded. The mechanics managed to get him onto the grid with less than a minute to spare before the pit lane closed. Hamilton was able to put it behind him and settle into the race as normal.
At the start Vettel got away slowly, his revs dropped and he bogged down, allowing Button and Hamilton to pass him. Vettel’s KERS worked fine, but he’d lost momentum. He managed to fight off Rosberg.
Behind them Massa again outperformed Alonso off the start line and got ahead, while the Force India cars again had strong starts, picking up places. Di Resta was 7th at the end of the first lap and Sutil 8th.
Di Resta reported some problems with the rear end of his car and a queue formed behind him.
The Mercedes drivers stopped earlier than their rivals, Rosberg came in on lap 14, indicating a three stop strategy. The leaders bunched up behind Button approaching their stops, Vettel passed Hamilton and then pitted, following Button in. At this point three stops was an option for Vettel. Button made a mistake, driving into the Red Bull pit box, losing around three seconds in the process. The team had expected him in the lap before, but he was a lap late.
So Vettel jumped Button and as they emerged, Vettel had gone from behind the McLarens to in front. But they were all behind Rosberg.
Also making great progress was Felipe Massa who passed Hamilton before the stops and then held fourth position ahead of him. Alonso missed out, being kept out a lap longer and rejoining seventh behind Michael Schumacher. He got separated from Massa at this point.
The pair had a great scrap during the second stint, Alonso finally getting past on lap 25. Schumacher pitted straight afterwards.
Button was the first of the front runners to make a second stop, followed by Rosberg and Hamilton. Vettel stayed out having committed to a two stop plan, which turned out to be the wrong choice. The Ferraris had also committed to two stops, which was a shame for Massa, who had good pace in this race and even passed the race winner at one point. Nevertheless he restored his reputation by finishing 14 seconds ahead of Alonso.
From those second stops onwards it was all about how the differing strategies would play out. Everyone is still learning about the new Pirelli tyres and how best to use them and today showed how finely balanced the decisions are.
There were so many highlights to the race and some sublime overtakes. Hamilton was faster than Button generally during this race and was forced to overtake his team mate on lap 36. Button gave him room, as Hamilton was in a determined mood.
Webber came through the field very rapidly, his team pitting him in order to give him some clear air to push in. Once the third stops were made it was clear that the three stop plan was starting to come into its own. Webber passed Alonso for sixth, then took Massa, Alonso and finally Button.
Meanwhile Hamilton closed on the leader Vettel, who made it as hard for him as he could, particularly in the DRS zone into Turn 14. But Hamilton was an irresistable force and he went past mid way through the following lap, as Vettel struggled for grip on his tyres which were seven laps older than Hamilton’s.
“The strategy we came up with into qualifying seemed to help,” said an emotional Hamilton. “Quite a few things came together; the pit stops, the car felt great. I tried to keep my tyres. The guys at the front had to do quite a bit of overtaking. I wasn’t worried, (about the problem before the start) it was important to stay as calm as possible.”
One final note; Heikki Kovalainen finished 16th for Lotus, ahead of Perez and Maldonado, marking the first time since the team arrived in F1 last season that one of the new teams has battled with established team cars. Trulli’s fastest race lap was only 3/10ths slower than Maldonado’s set in similar circumstances on new tyres in the closing stages.
Vote on what you thought of the race below.
Watch out for my deep dive into the race strategies and explanation of how the strategies contributed to this thrilling GP, coming up on Tuesday
CHINESE GRAND PRIX, Shanghai, 56 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren 1h36:58.226
2. Vettel Red Bull + 5.198
3. Webber Red Bull + 7.555
4. Button McLaren + 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 + 1:03.273
11. Di Resta Force India + 1:08.757
12. Heidfeld Renault + 1:12.739
13. Barrichello Williams + 1:30.189
14. Buemi Toro Rosso + 1:30.671
15. Sutil Force India + 1 lap
16. Kovalainen Lotus + 1 lap
17. Perez Sauber + 1 lap
18. Maldonado Williams + 1 lap
19. Trulli Lotus + 1 lap
20. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 2 laps
21. Glock Virgin + 2 laps
22. Karthikeyan HRT + 2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT + 2 laps