Lewis Hamilton looked to be in real trouble just minutes before the start of the race. An overnight fuel leak had meant that parts needed to be desperately fixed before the lights went out.
Despite this unwanted drama, the McLaren man went on to drive a phenomenal race and take a well-deserved victory. However, I’d like to stress that it certainly wasn’t the "Lewis show." There were also fantastic drives from both Mercedes drivers, Felipe Massa and a simply spectacular performance from Mark Webber.
The 2011 Grand Prix season has been simply fantastic so far and it seems to just get better and better every race. I still can’t really warm to KERS or moveable rear wings, but these new Pirelli tyres have created strategic racing that I haven’t seen for a long time!
On to the race then, and it was a clean getaway for all of the drivers.
Jenson Button slipped comfortably into the lead as Sebastian Vettel fought hard to cover Lewis Hamilton. Vettel was unable to hold Hamilton and as the race took early shape, we were looking at a McLaren one-two.
After one lap the positions were as follows:
Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Paul Di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Michael Schumacher, Jamie Alguersuari, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Sebastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Sergio Perez, Mark Webber, Heikki Kovalianen, Jarno Trulli, Pastor Maldinado, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Timo Glock, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Narain Karthikeyan.
As the race continued there were some position changes up and down the grid but the overall standings remained pretty stable.
There were a few close battles but surprisingly by Lap 10 the race was looking a little processional.
We really didn’t have to wait long for action though as Jamie Alguersuari took to the pits on Lap 10 and exited with a pretty wobbly right rear tyre!
The Torro Rosso man lost his rear seconds later and was unable to make it back to the pits. Alguersuari would be the first and last retirement of the race.
There was a close fight between Nico Rosberg and the Ferraris for P4, but that was cut short by Rosberg pitting. However, there was still a lot to look at at the front as Sebastian Vettel darted past Hamilton in the final few turns only to dart into the pits behind the race leader Jenson Button.
What followed was simply mad!
Jenson Button calmly pulled into the Red Bull pit area and seemed to pause! The Red Bull mechanics screamed and waved at Button and it was clear that the McLaren man had bizarrely pulled into the wrong garage!
McLaren had a good stop with the 2009 champion, but the few seconds lost in the confusion were a gift for Vettel who exited the pits ahead of Button (Vettel was now P8, Button, P9).
There was yet more action as Felipe Massa overtook Hamilton in the final turns before both drivers took to the pits! Massa then won the "pit race" and rejoined in P7.
I think Massa really deserves a shout here. Ferrari’s No. 2 has gotten better and better as 2011 has developed and did a great job today leapfrogging his team mate off the start line to give himself much better options in the race.
Meanwhile, Massa’s team mate Fernando Alonso pitted and rejoined P9. So I guess Vettel or Hamilton was P1 now right? Well, that’s what we all thought but amazingly Nico Rosberg and Mercedes had played a beautiful strategic move and Rosberg found himself in the lead and looking great!
By Lap 19 most of the big guns had stopped and the positions were as follows:
Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Paul Di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi, Mark Webber, Vitaly Petrov, Sergio Perez, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Mastor Maldinado, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Sebastien Buemi, Narain Karthikeyan, Timo Glock, Vitantonio Liuzzi.
As the race continued there was a lovely battle between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher and a few drivers including Button, Hamilton and Webber all made pit stops.
The Alonso-Schumacher fight was close and exciting; it took the Ferrari man a good two or three laps, but on Lap 26 Alonso was finally able to take and hold his old rival as the two men negotiated the final corners.
At this stage Vettel was leading but the big question was tyre strategy. The smart money seemed to be on a three-stop race as, for example, two-stopping Ferrari seemed to be really struggling, whilst three-stopping McLaren were having a much better time.
Vettel was on a two-stopper and so this part of the race would be crucial to him. He’d need to pull out a substantial lead to cover himself against the three-stoppers whose tyres would be in much better shape at the end of the race.
By the time we had got to Lap 35 there was a fascinating battle between Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton for second place. The two McLaren men did battle for a few laps, but eventually Hamilton was too much and Button almost seemed to let his team mate through into Turn 6.
The McLarens then stopped and by this stage it was clear that if a silver car was going to win, it would probably be Hamilton’s.
Nico Rosberg stopped on l:ap 39 but when he rejoined just ahead of Hamilton in third place, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before McLaren took Mercedes.
Rosberg fought well, but I have to admit I was a little sad to see Hamilton take him a couple of laps later. The Mercedes driver had to watch his fuel levels and despite a great result, I think Rosberg will be disappointed that he just wasn’t really fast enough as the race came to a close.
The Mercedes driver was quickly passed by Button and eventually fell foul to a resurgent and determined Mark Webber. Rosberg ended the day in P5, but after a very strong performance.
Hamilton’s manoeuvre on Rosberg put the faster McLaren man into P3 and it wasn’t long before Hamilton despatched a now struggling Massa for a vital P2 place.
As the race drew to a close, the action got hotter and hotter!
Hamilton quickly moved up behind Vettel and the two began a close battle that would last a couple of laps.
Clearly the three stop strategy was king as whilst Hamilton three stop moved in on Vettel two-stop, both Ferraris began to flounder and almost out of nowhere, three-stop Mark Webber began to carve up his opposition!
Both Red Bull cars had lost KERS and so it was exciting but predictable when Hamilton calmly slotted past Vettel into the lead, but it was impressive to see Webber's amazing speed without the ridiculous electrical speed boost.
The action went right down to the wire and Mark Webber was able to pass even Jenson Button for a simply unbelievable podium place with just two laps remaining.
The Red Bull man who had been told that P4 was the best he could expect had pulled something special out of the bag and managed to triumphantly cross the line in third place!
The Chinese Grand Prix was a pure treat to watch (and I’m saying this as a fan whose two favourite drivers had pretty poor races!).
Perhaps many of the headlines will belong to Lewis Hamilton, and of course he thoroughly deserves them. However, if you asked me who deserved the real credit today I would say Mark Webber.
The third race of 2011 has given us more than we could have wished for and as F1 now heads into a short break, I’m sure everyone will be counting the seconds until it all starts again in Turkey!
Drivers’ Championship Top Three:
Sebastian Vettel 68
Lewis Hamilton 47
Jenson Button 38
Constructors’ Top Three:
Red Bull 105
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
8 Michael Schumacher Mercedes
9 Vitaly Petrov Renault
10 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes
12 Nick Heidfeld Renault
13 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
14 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
16 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault
17 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth
19 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault
20 Jerome d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
21 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
22 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth
23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth
Ret Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari