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."

Following McLaren's maiden victory of the campaign in only the third race, the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted that during what was a troublesome pre-season's testing with the new MP4-26, such a result would have been frankly unimaginable - but now that the duck has been broken in F1 2011, the objective, he acknowledges, must be to pick up the building momentum and run with it.

"In grands prix nowadays, there is so much action that, if you get it slightly wrong, you're toast," the Englishman opined. "Today, I think both Lewis and Jenson drove brilliant, charging races - just fantastic! This was our first win of the year, a really important one, and a reward for all the work that everyone at McLaren-Mercedes has put in over the last six weeks.

"Before the race, we tried to start Lewis' engine, but his car suffered what we believe to have been a fuel flooding issue. At a certain rate, a pressure release valve pops and lets fuel out. It let fuel out into the engine's airtray, flooding it. With too much fuel, the engine won't start, so the mechanics hurriedly took the airtray out, cleaned up the excess fuel and fired it up. We quickly assembled the car and sent it to the grid with 60 seconds to go.

"The mechanics did an absolutely superlative job to identify the problem and rectify it within a very stressful timeframe - they really showed today that they are the best in the world, and I take my hat off to them - and Lewis responded magnificently to the pressure to record one of his most finely-judged and aggressive race wins. He really is a magnificent fighter, and this victory was the perfect way for us to head into the European season.

"I think today showed that F1 can deliver spectacular, fast, close, nail-biting racing. That must have been one of the most exciting races I've ever seen. It's incredibly rewarding to know that our sport is in good shape and that McLaren-Mercedes is a winning force in F1 - today will be a fantastic boost for every man and woman in the team, and it will only motivate us to achieve even greater things in Turkey next month. Now we've just got to win some more!"



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