Lewis Hamilton won a sensational Chinese Grand Prix with a stunning drive despite a fuel leak just minutes before the race.
Two-stopping Sebastian Vettel led for a lot of the race but had to give way to the charging Hamilton and finished second ahead of Mark Webber who stormed through the field from 18th on the grid.
“I never really knew right to the end I could do it,” saidHamilton. “It is one of the best grand prix wins I can remember.
“I could not believe I was catching Vettel. He was putting up a great fight and it was great to get by him.”
Webber denied Jenson Button the final podium by passing him into the hairpin on the penultimate lap.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg finished fifth ahead of the two Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
His team-mate Michael Schumacher crossed the line in eighth and Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi rounded out the scoring positions.
Hamilton’s race began twenty minutes before the lights went out after the team discovered a fuel leak on his McLaren when they fired it up in the pits.
Mechanics stripped the car down andHamiltononly made it out of the pit-lane 30 seconds before it closed. Had the recovery job have taken any longer he would have had to start from the pit-lane.
Once on the grid things could not have got better for McLaren as Button andHamiltonpassed Vettel onto the run-down to turn one, who had to try and hold off the fast-charging Rosberg.
Schumacher, Rosberg and Webber were the first to pit and started setting fastest laps as the front-runners struggled with worn tyres.
Ahead of the first-stop Vettel passedHamiltonto take second at the hairpin and followed race-leader Button into the pits on lap 15. But the Brit extraordinarily drove into the Red Bull pit box and had to be waved through allowing Vettel to overtake him in the stops.
Button said he was looking down and made a silly error but stressed that it made little difference to the end result.
Rosberg took the lead onceHamiltonstopped as a result of his quick laps after pitting early and had a comfortable lead over Vettel and the two McLarens.
The leaders split strategies with Webber, the McLarens and the Mercedes’ choosing three-stops with Vettel and the two Ferraris pitting twice.
The German world champion led after Rosberg’s stop on lap 27 but the longer the race went on the more he struggled to conserve his ageing tyres.
Hamiltonpassed Button into turn one on lap 36 and Rosberg into turn four on lap 42 as his challenge came alive.
The Brit’s fresher rubber madeMassaeasy prey and he set off after Vettel who he passed four laps from the flag.
Massawas caught by both Rosberg and Button in the closing stages but the German ran wide trying to overtake the Ferrari driver and cheaply surrendered third to Button.
But neither had any answer to Webber’s extraordinary pace at the death as the Australian set fastest lap after fastest lap. Racing at two seconds of a lap quicker than Rosberg and Button he reeled them in and passed both in the final five laps.
But it was Hamilton who had the largest smile on the podium after securing his 15th Grand Prix victory – and his first sinceBelgium eight months ago.
“You put so much into a season with preparations over winter. It feels like a long time since I won a GP (Belgium, August 2010). It feels like an eternity.” saidHamilton
“The emotion comes from the desire to win and to be better and to compete against tough rivals. When you haven’t won it feels like an eternity.
“The car has been great and we are having to push with everything we have to close the gap. We were smarter on strategy and on making it work.”
The result will provide a massive boost for Hamilton and McLaren just twenty-four hours after he had claimed Red Bull would dominate the next few races.
Vettel and Red Bull still lead the championship standings as they F1 circus heads toEuropefor the Turkish Grand Prix in three weeks time