Lewis Hamilton did everything he could, but he ran out of time before he could make a successful move on Mark Webber for third place in the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of India at the Buddh International Circuit.

At stake wasn't just a place on the podium, but his last remaining hopes of winning the 2012 world championship. Ending up in fourth place puts him 75pts off Sebastian Vettel: with three races remaining in the season, that means he would have to win every one of them just to pull level with Vettel, and that's assuming Vettel scores no more points at all in Abu Dhabi, Texas and Sao Paulo.

In other words, he's done in terms of this year's championship. And ironically, that seems to have taken a weight off his shoulders and allowed him to enjoy a Grand Prix for the sheer thrill of the chase.

"I loved it out there today!" he beamed afterwards, sounding more animated than after many an outright win in the past. "I can't remember the last time I've pushed so far, so hard, for so long, right on the limit - it felt great. It felt fantastic, in fact, to be in the middle of such a battle."

Hamilton had featured in the most thrilling battle of the entire race through the first corners of the race, as his team mate Jenson Button got the jump on him off the grid and the two went side-by-side right down the long straight, which almost allowed Fernando Alonso to get the jump on them both.

"During the first lap, I was primarily focusing on not colliding with Jenson, then I saw Fernando in my right mirror," recalled Hamilton. "He was towing me from very far back.

"I don't yet understand why I got such a poor start," he added. "It lost me ground and then I fell under attack from the guys behind." But he admitted: "Even if I'd had a better start than I did, the guys in front were still maybe a bit too fast, particularly in the first stint."

Despite managing to get back in front of Button on lap 6, Hamilton started to struggle in the opening phase of the race and fell away from Alonso and the two Red Bulls who were leading the race. Hamilton explained that the reason for this was what had prompted the team to try an unusual - and very risky - gambit of replacing the steering wheel in the sole visit to pit road on lap 32.

"During that first stint I started having a downshift problem," he revealed. "I was having to change down with my right hand instead of my left, so the team elected to change the steering wheel at the pitstop.

"I've never had to change a steering wheel during a race before. We've done it in Barcelona testing before, but never in a race," he admitted. But it went like clockwork, the whole five-wheel change stop timed by the team at a stunning 3.1 seconds.

"I took the wheel off before I'd even stopped the car, and threw it out of the car," he explained. "The team then fitted a new one, I clicked it into first gear, and I was away - all in just a bit over three seconds flat ... The guys did it fantastically quickly, under immense pressure, so I want to say 'well done!' to them all."

It looked as though Hamilton would have to settle for a quite drive in the country to fourth place from there, but news that Fernando Alonso might be critical on fuel and that Mark Webber was suffering from KERS issues gave him renewed vigour and he set off on a charge to catch them and make a bid for a podium finish.

"I tried to chase down Mark in the closing laps, but by then it was too late and he was going too quickly for me to be able to mount a serious challenge," he said. "But I never give up, and, right until the very last corner, I thought I might just be able to catch him, but in the end it wasn't to be."

"Lewis pushed as hard as he possibly could in the closing stages, carving chunks out of the gap between him and Mark ahead," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. "If the race had been just a few laps longer, I'm certain he'd have fancied his chances of getting past."

In the end, the team came away with fourth position for Hamilton and a fifth for Button, a total of 22pts in the constructors championship which means that they've lost a little ground on Ferrari but still very much in the hunt to take the runner-up position over the remaining three races of the year, starting next weekend at Abu Dhabi.

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