F1: Hamilton skill turns China crisis into victory
Published 18/04/2011 | 05:00
This was the race that 2011 was crying out for; a terrific, topsy-turvy fight to the chequered flag and at the end of it someone other than Sebastian Vettel on the top step of the podium.
Nothing against the German, but Lewis Hamilton's sensational victory in yesterday's Chinese Grand Prix has brought the season to life. Red Bull's stranglehold has been broken.
What a race. To think that Hamilton almost missed it entirely. He made it to the grid with only seconds to spare after a fuel line came loose and flooded his car's engine. Two hours later he was dousing his relieved mechanics with champagne rather than petrol.
Despite the drama, the countless overtaking manoeuvres, this was not a total vindication of the new regulations.
The purists will still argue that the racing was contrived and almost exclusively down to tyre wear and differing strategies. And they will have a point.
It was hard to know at times to what extent the glut of overtaking we were witnessing was down to dazzling driving, and to what extent it was simply the result of tyres at different stages of their life cycle.
But to quibble after such stimulation seems churlish. This was possibly the most exhilarating Grand Prix Formula One has witnessed since Brazil 2008 when Hamilton won his world championship.
It certainly had a profound effect on the winner. After the criticism he received in the wake of the previous weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, when he had been unable to make his tyres last the full race distance and dropped from second to seventh with a late pit stop, it was abundantly clear what this win, the 15th of his career, meant to the Briton.
"It feels like forever since I had my last race win," he said of that rainy day at Spa-Francorchamps last August.
"I can't even remember it as it is that long ago. I was rubbing the cockpit of the car the last five laps saying, 'please baby please, I swear on my life, please just stay together'. I'm overwhelmed."
He was not alone in that regard.
From the moment the lights went out it was breathless stuff. Vettel, on pole, made a poor start and was helpless to repel the twin-pronged charge of the McLarens behind him; Jenson Button surging up the outside and Hamilton going wheel-to-wheel up the inside to claim second place into turn one.
That race order was not to last long.
When Button and Vettel pitted for the first time on lap 14 the Englishman lost his lead in bizarre circumstances, stopping in Vettel's box instead of his own.
"I was looking down and when I looked back up I could see I was in the wrong place," he said.
As a result of that error, and the fact that Hamilton in turn was also overtaken, McLaren switched from a two to a three-stop strategy. It was to prove a race-winning call.
By lap 40 of 56, with all the pit stops having played out, Vettel found himself leading from Ferrari's Felipe Massa with both men having stopped twice.
But Hamilton and Button, on three-stop strategies and fresh rubber, were closing fast. Hamilton surged past the Brazilian with 11 laps remaining, and then, with a glorious move into the left-hander at turn seven, picked off Vettel with just four laps remaining to claim the race lead.
"I was quite surprised by his move into turn seven," Vettel said.
"It was a very good move. I think we gave it our best and I don't see second today as a disappointment. We've had three races; we've finished first, first and second. There's not a lot of room for improvement."
Behind those two the fight for third place was almost as riveting.
Button seemed set fair, having battled past Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg -- who had been told to back off with his fuel levels critical -- only for Mark Webber to nick the position off him with one lap remaining. The Australian, always at his best with his back to the wall, staked his claim for drive of the day having stormed through from 18th on the grid.
"He for sure was driver of the day," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in typical F1-speak. "I'm sure Jenson is wondering how he finished fourth behind Mark, who started 18th."
"I'm not going to make any excuses," Button said. In terms of set-up and speed we just weren't good enough today. I was fourth and if that's a bad day it's not so bad. Overall the team has done a good job this weekend."
That they have and all F1 fans, bar die-hard Red Bull devotees, will be happier for it as they prepare for the next outing in Turkey in three weeks.
Hard to believe, now, that McLaren finished winter testing two seconds off the pace. No wonder Hamilton was overwhelmed.
"It is definitely one of my top three or top five races," he grinned.
"When you win having come through the field and you really have to earn it, it feels that much better." (© Daily Telegraph, London)