Lewis Hamilton ended Sebastian Vettel's run of wins with an incredible charge to victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. The McLaren driver's three-stop strategy proved a better bet than Vettel's two stops, allowing Hamilton to hunt down and pass the tire-hampered Red Bull in the final laps.
Mark Webber drove an outstanding race to come from 18th on the grid to third in the second Red Bull, ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, both of whom led for long spells in an highly absorbing race.
Vettel's afternoon began to get complicated with a poor start that allowed both McLarens to get past him into Turn 1 and gave him a few headaches resisting Rosberg through the opening corners. The top three then ran in a queue covered by 2sec through the first stint, with Rosberg a few seconds behind, fending off the Ferraris, which were led by Felipe Massa.
Mercedes then pulled a masterstroke by bringing Rosberg in on lap 12. The German emerged in clear air and made the most of his fresh tires, but was also helped by a chaotic few laps for the top three.
As Hamilton's tire performance faded, Vettel surged past him using the DRS wing on the back straight. Button and Vettel then immediately pitted nose to tail, but bizarrely Button pulled into the Red Bull pit stall rather than McLaren's, and was frantically waved on to the correct pit, slightly slowing both stops, although Red Bull reacted fast and still got Vettel out ahead.
With Hamilton losing pace dramatically on his in-lap and being caught and passed by Massa, Rosberg's new-tire pace and uncomplicated out-laps really paid dividends. As the second stint started, Rosberg led Vettel by 5sec, with Button, Massa and Hamilton giving chase.
But while Rosberg and the McLarens were committed to three-stop strategies, Vettel and Massa had decided to go for just two. The latter looked like the best plan once everyone had made their second stops just after half-distance, for though that put Vettel and Massa fourth and fifth behind Rosberg and the McLarens, they were matching the leaders' pace and not allowing the top three to pull out a sufficient margin to stay ahead when they made their additional stops.
Hamilton was now on a charge, though, slicing down the inside of Button to take second on lap 35, and then quickly catching Rosberg after their third stops and diving past him into Turn 6. He then hunted down the two-stopping Massa and passed the Ferrari with ease on the pits straight with 12 laps to go.
Next in his sights was Vettel and by lap 50 Hamilton was right with the Red Bull and attacking with the DRS wing on the back straight, though the championship leader doggedly hugged the inside line at the hairpin every time the McLaren drew alongside.
Hamilton had to try something different, and on lap 52 he got much better traction out of Turn 6 and swept through on the inside into the fast Turn 7, before quickly scampering away to take a breakthrough victory in a race that proved Formula 1's 2011 rules package is achieving everything the rule-makers could have hoped for. It was also an incredible result considering a problem with the McLaren's fuel system almost forced him to start from the pitlane, the car only just making it out of the garage in time.
Rosberg fell behind Button when he ran wide trying to pass Massa. With his tires just too old to resist the three-stoppers, Massa was swiftly overtaken by Button, Rosberg and even Webber – who also became a factor in the podium battle in the enthralling final stages.
The Australian had made little impression in his first stint on hard tires, but like Sepang a week ago, stopping three times gave him plenty of opportunity to gain ground in clear air, and saving the much quicker softs for the final stint when everyone else was on hards gave him a huge pace advantage, as he proved by grabbing fourth from Rosberg with a Turn 6 dive three laps from the end. Lapping 2sec quicker than anyone else, Webber then caught Button at the end of the penultimate lap and grabbed a sensational podium finish.
Massa had to settle for sixth, but could take satisfaction from outpacing teammate Fernando Alonso, who both lacked Massa's speed and lost ground emerging into traffic after pitstops. He just beat Michael Schumacher to seventh, the Mercedes having got clear of the midfield by making a very early first of three stops.
Renault's podium run ended with Vitaly Petrov only able to take ninth place ahead of Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber. Paul di Resta was looking good for more points until fading in the final few laps, leaving him 11th ahead of Nick Heidfeld's Renault, with which he clashed in the closing moments. Adrian Sutil's race in the second Force India was spoiled by contact with Sergio Perez, for which the Sauber driver was penalized.
Toro Rosso's great qualifying effort turned to nothing, with both drivers soon falling down the order, Sebastien Buemi finishing only 14th behind Rubens Barrichello's Williams, and Jaime Alguersuari retiring when a wheel fell off after his pitstop. Behind Sutil, Heikki Kovalainen gave Lotus plenty to cheer by beating Perez and Pastor Maldonado's Williams to 16th.
• Click here for a list of stories from all the teams following the race.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai International Circuit, China;
56 laps; 305.066km;
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1h36:58.226
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 5.198
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 7.555
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 10.000
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 13.448
6. Massa Ferrari + 15.840
7. Alonso Ferrari + 30.622
8. Schumacher Mercedes + 31.206
9. Petrov Renault + 57.404
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:03.273
11. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1:08.757
12. Heidfeld Renault + 1:12.739
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:30.189
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:30.671
15. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
16. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 1 lap
17. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
18. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault + 1 lap
20. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
Fastest lap: Webber, 1:38.993
Driver Team On lap
Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 12
World Championship standings, round 3:
1. Vettel 68 1. Red Bull-Renault 105
2. Hamilton 47 2. McLaren-Mercedes 85
3. Button 38 3. Ferrari 50
4. Webber 37 4. Renault 32
5. Alonso 26 5. Mercedes 16
6. Massa 24 6. Sauber-Ferrari 7
7. Petrov 17 7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 4
8. Heidfeld 15 8. Force India-Mercedes 4
9. Rosberg 10
10. Kobayashi 7
11. Schumacher 6
12. Buemi 4
13. Di Resta 2
14. Sutil 2
All timing unofficial