Just 15 minutes before the race, Lewis Hamilton didn't even know if he would be able to begin the Chinese Grand Prix; 56 laps later, and the McLaren-Mercedes star was toasting his first victory of the F1 2011 campaign after managing his tyres to absolute perfection and producing a sparkling performance in Shanghai.
The drama around Hamilton's car in the build-up to the grand prix was caused by a fuel leak after the fuel line in his MP4-26 came loose, spilling fuel into the airbox of the engine and necessitating some frantic last-minute work from the McLaren mechanics, who removed the airbox to rectify the issue, sending the Briton out of the pits with barely half-a-minute to go before the grid closed. The tactics had always been to send Lewis out late – but this was rather later than had been originally anticipated...
Hamilton went on to repay his team's stellar efforts in some style – and following some criticism about his ability to look after the tyres in the wake of his Malaysian Grand Prix misery, in China, he demonstrated that lessons had been learned and that he can not only make his tyres work, but that he can make them work better than most of his rivals.
As Sebastian Vettel bogged down slightly off the line, Jenson Button needed no second invitation to pull alongside and seamlessly snatch the lead as the starting lights went out, with the pole-sitter forced to defend against Hamilton in third, but the 2008 F1 World Champion was having none of it and aggressively kept his foot in on the inside into Turn One to make it a McLaren one-two.
Mercedes Grand Prix ace Nico Rosberg fancied a piece of the action too as he attempted to follow Hamilton past Vettel, but his compatriot closed the door to at least preserve third place, with Felipe Massa again out-starting Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso to run fifth and the two Force Indias of qualifying star Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil running line-astern in seventh and eighth respectively. Michael Schumacher and Jaime Alguersuari completed the early top ten.
As Button focussed on putting some clear air between himself and Hamilton, the Ferraris were applying the pressure on fourth-placed Rosberg, whilst further back, born racer Kamui Kobayashi perhaps predictably became the first man to make use of the deployment of DRS by making his way past Scuderia Toro Rosso rival Alguersuari for tenth, and swiftly going on to home in on the di Resta, Sutil and Schumacher scrap over seventh place, the Scot reporting 'a lot of problems at the rear' of his Force India.
As HRT's Vitantonio Liuzzi earned himself a drive-through penalty for a jump-start, Vitaly Petrov – who had lost ground at the start – left the two Toro Rossos of Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in a Lotus Renault GP sandwich in twelfth and 13th, with team-mate Nick Heidfeld right behind in P14, ahead of the luckless Mark Webber, who was going nowhere from his lowly 18th grid slot and was a full 18 seconds shy of the lead after only seven laps.
As the STR duo went at it hammer-and-tongs with each other, Heidfeld cleared Buemi and Alguersuari's pit-stop immediately afterwards at the end of lap nine gave the German some well-appreciated clear air. A little further back, Sauber rookie Sergio Perez found his way past Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello, and almost immediately afterwards, extraordinarily nailed Webber all the way around the outside as the Australian continued to struggle.
Alguersuari's stop began a flurry of first-round pit visits, but the Spaniard found himself out-of-luck when – having palpably not been fitted on properly – his right rear tyre flew off shortly afterwards, whilst a slow pit-stop for Webber only added to the RBR star's woes.