Former world champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted that his superb Chinese Grand Prix triumph in Shanghai today left him 'struggling for words' – as he rated it as one of his three finest race wins in F1.
Less than half an hour ahead of the grand prix, however, Hamilton must have been wondering whether he was going to be able to start at all, when a fuel leak inside his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-26 led to a frantic effort on the part of his mechanics to firstly identify and subsequently attempt to rectify the problem, as the clock fast ticked down to the closure of the grid. The British star made it out of the pit-lane with literally half-a-minute to spare.
Impressively unfazed, Hamilton made an excellent start when the lights went out, and brilliantly exploited a poor getaway by Red Bull Racing's pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel to hold his nerve and force his way down the inside into Turn One and pinch second place behind team-mate Jenson Button.
From there, he went on to shadow his countryman throughout the opening stint whilst ably keeping Vettel at bay, and then as his rivals began to struggle with their tyres, the 26-year-old gave a vivid demonstration of the benefits of having saved an extra set of the softer compound Pirelli rubber in qualifying, and really came alive in the latter stages of the race.
Overhauling Button with 20 laps to go, Hamilton then took advantage of Nico Rosberg finding himself momentarily held up by the lapped Pastor Maldonado exiting the pits to relieve the German of third position. Ten laps later, he blasted past Felipe Massa for second place along the straight and set about inexorably homing in on race leader Vettel, his Red Bull rival now struggling on older tyres.
With five laps remaining, the pair were absolutely together, and the McLaren man made his move on the run down to Turn Seven, following which there was no looking back. Having been criticised pre-weekend for being the architect of his own downfall in Malaysia a week ago in not looking after his tyres sufficiently well, Hamilton's performance in Shanghai was a masterclass in controlled aggression.
“I'm still struggling for words,” he confessed after tallying the 15th victory of his F1 career, and a result that has vaulted him past Button into second place in the title chase. “That really was one of my best races. Before the start, I was sat in the car thinking, 'Okay, let's go,' but the car wouldn't start! I didn't question what was going on; I just wanted to stay calm and not add to everyone's stress. When I finally left the garage, I drove down the pit-lane watching the light and hoping it wouldn't turn red – and it didn't! It's never been that close before...
“It's rare to have battles like the ones we saw today; you really had to think about the situation and I loved that challenge, but having to overtake people made things so much sweeter. At the end, it was tough to get past Sebastian – even though he was getting slower, he never looked like getting out-of-shape. It was always going to be difficult to follow him onto the back straight, so I wanted to get him before then – I wasn't expecting to overtake where I did, but I had the grip to keep ahead, and I made it stick.
“Looking back at these three 'flyaways', it feels absolutely amazing to have a car beneath us that can compete. We've still got some way to go to close the gap to the Red Bulls, but we had the better strategy and were able to execute it really well. The team will keep on pushing as hard as ever as we head into the European season, and I feel so proud. This race is in my top three of race wins – it's up there with Silverstone and Monaco in 2008. I exist and I live and I breathe to win; I love winning, and I just couldn't be happier.”