SHANGHAI, April 17 – Britain's Lewis Hamilton dramatically ended world champion Sebastian Vettel's dominant start to the 2011 season when he drove to a spectacular victory in a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.The 26-year-old McLaren driver, world champion in 2008, surged through the field on fresh tyres in the closing stages before brilliantly passing the German with less than five laps remaining.
The win in Shanghai was the 15th victory of Hamilton’s Formula One career and brought Vettel’s recent winning streak to an end.
"I am absolutely overwhelmed," Hamilton said, after tactically outsmarting the 23-year-old German who had pitted earlier and whose worn-out treads could not keep pace with the Briton.
"It feels like a long time since I was sitting here. I will continue to push and am looking forward to many more (victories) like this," Hamilton added.
Vettel started on pole but lost the lead at the first corner to Hamilton’s McLaren team mate and compatriot Jenson Button, who finished an ultimately disappointing fourth.
Vettel admitted that Red Bull’s long-stop strategy had failed but he paid tribute to Hamilton’s victory.
"We probably tried too hard staying on two stops," said Vettel, winner of the season’s opening races in Australia and Malaysia.
"The middle stint should have been longer, but then you find yourself on the hard tyre and I saw Lewis coming closer and closer.
"We made a couple of mistakes and we had some problems, but still we finished second so I am very happy for that. Congratulations to Lewis and McLaren."
Vettel leads the title race with 68 points with Hamilton second on 47 and Button third on 38.
There was also joy Sunday for Australia’s Mark Webber who started a humiliating 18th on the grid but finished third behind his Red Bull teammate after a near-wondrous final push, before poking fun at his colleague.
"Congratulations to Lewis. It was good that someone finally (beat Vettel)," Webber joked.
German Nico Rosberg, one of several drivers who looked a possible winner after leading during the race, brought his Mercedes home in fifth place ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari and his team mate, two-times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso who was seventh.
On a clear day of blue skies and mild temperatures, there was drama for Hamilton before the start when his car failed to fire up in the McLaren garage, forcing it to be rapidly stripped down and repaired. He only made it to the grid with 35 seconds to spare.
But Hamilton remained calm and made a good start from third place on the grid, moving up into second after pole-sitter Vettel struggled to pull away.
As the field jostled for places in the opening laps, Button settled down in front ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.
On lap 14, when it seemed that the McLaren team was delaying too long on a pit-stop, Vettel passed Hamilton on the Shanghai circuit’s long straight, before diving into the pits behind Button.
But Button, the 2009 champion, then made a rookie’s error when he pulled his McLaren up in the Red Bull pits, and had to be waved away by their mechanics having lost precious seconds before he moved forward to his own team’s slot.
This was perfect for Vettel who pulled out ahead of a red-faced Button. This left Hamilton leading, but he was unable to resist the Ferraris of Massa and Alonso before pitting, along with Massa at the end of lap 15.
This left Alonso in the lead until he pitted and Rosberg took over at the front, having made an early stop. Massa rejoined in seventh.
Rosberg enjoyed a lead of more than four seconds ahead of Vettel until he pitted again after 25 laps alongside Hamilton and Webber, Button having pitted one lap earlier.
All of this chaotic action left Vettel out in front leading Massa by three seconds at the half-way mark of the 56-laps race.
Vettel made his second stop after 31 laps to give Massa the lead ahead of Rosberg and then the Brazilian himself pitted after 33 laps and emerged on a set of hard tyres.
But Hamilton clawed his way back and having sped his way through the field he passed Vettel at turn six on lap 52, going on to win.