SHANGHAI, China, April 18 – A delighted Lewis Hamilton headed home after winning the Chinese Grand Prix confident he can build a convincing title challenge and give defending champion Sebastian Vettel a run for his money.
Britain’s Hamilton and his McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button finished first and fourth in the third race of the 2011 season in Shanghai on Sunday as Vettel’s run of two season-opening wins came to an end.
Vettel was second for Red Bull ahead of his team-mate Australian Mark Webber, who produced the drive of the day to finish on the podium after starting 18th on the grid.
Victory for Hamilton, 26, was his 15th career win and his first since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
As most close observers of the sport have noted, Hamilton has made a near-flawless start to the season, driving with great speed, confidence and efficiency. His passing of his rivals in Sunday’s race was sublime.
© AFP McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain powers his car during the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix
© AFP/File Liu Jin
"I feel I am driving as well as I can, maybe as well as I have ever done," he said. "And the car is improving all the time. We now have a decent gap before the next race in Turkey so I am hoping for some more new parts and a bit of time to pull it all together.
"I definitely feel we are in there now with a chance. Our race pace is good, as everyone could see today, and now we just have to work on getting things going a bit better in qualifying," said the 2008 world champion.
A delighted Webber joked that he should start down the grid in future after his heroics at the Shanghai International Circuit.
"Maybe that’s where I should always start," he said. "Just give up on qualifying, save the tyres and get out there and go for it. It would certainly give the crowd value for money and I think we’d all enjoy it, too.
"But, being serious, I have to say thanks to the team for the great effort put in for this result by everyone. It has been a tough time for me and I may have said that the way things were going I thought I might get hit by a truck, but this was just a great day for me.
"To finish on the podium after starting 18th is pretty amazing and I am glad, too, that Lewis has ended Seb’s run even though he drives for McLaren. It is good for racing."
© AFP Chinese Grand Prix
After two wins and a second, Vettel leads the title standings with 68 points, ahead of Hamilton on 47, with Button third on 38 and Webber fourth on 37.
Of that foursome, only Webber has never been crowned champion, but he kept that ambition alive with Sunday’s awesome demonstration of commitment, skill and courage in an incident-packed race that was a near-perfect advertisement for the new rules and the fast-wearing Pirelli tyres.
"It was very enjoyable, great fun and we never really knew what was going on out there," said Button, world champion in 2009. "I think that’s the way things are going to be this year."
Button also supported Hamilton’s claim that McLaren were now in a position to build up a challenge to Red Bull. "This is a big, experienced team that knows what it takes to win a championship and there are a lot of very good people working to do just that this time," he said.
Vettel, philosophical in defeat, said he was not surprised. "We made some mistakes and a few things went wrong. It happens. Now we have to regroup, stay cool and work hard to get back on top."