Lewis Hamilton has rated his victory in today’s Chinese Grand Prix one of the best of his career as he became the first driver to beat reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel in a race in 2011.
“I'm still struggling for words – that really was one of my best races,” exclaimed the Brit, who just moments before the beginning of the race looked as though his car may not even make it to the starting grid.
“Before the start, I was sat in the car and thinking, 'Okay, let's go,' but the car wouldn't start. I didn't question what was going on, I just wanted to stay calm and not add to everyone's stress. When I finally left the garage, I drove down the pitlane watching the light and hoped it wouldn't turn red – and it didn't! It's never been that close beforeâ€¦”
The race in China was full of action and overtaking from start to finish. Hamilton was in the thick of the action right from the start, and made a number of important moves over the course of the 56 lap race. “It's rare to have battles like the ones we saw today; you really had to think about the situation, and I loved that challenge, but having to overtake people made things so much sweeter,” said the 2008 champion.
“At the end, it was tough to get past Sebastian – even though he was getting slower, he never looked like getting out of shape. It was always going to be difficult to follow him onto the back straight, so I wanted to get him before then – I wasn't expecting to overtake where I did, but I had the grip to keep ahead, and I made it stick.
“Looking back at these three flyaways, it still feels absolutely amazing to have a car beneath us that can compete. We've still got some way to go to close the gap to the Red Bulls, but we had the better strategy and were able to execute it really well. The team will keep on pushing as hard as ever as we head into the European season.
“I feel so proud: this race is in my top three of race wins, it's up there with Silverstone and Monaco in 2008. I exist and I live and I breathe to win: I love winning and I just couldn't be happier.”
His McLaren team-mate Jenson Button finished the day in fourth place. He also had an incident-packed race, and even drove into the Red Bull pit box as he came in for his first stop. Despite being overtaken by Hamilton during the race, Button still congratulated his fellow Brit on the victory:
“Firstly, I want to say congratulations to Lewis – he had good pace and drove a great race today,” he said. “It was also a fantastic job by the whole team.
“I had a pretty interesting race – I lost out to Sebastian at the first pitstop when I mistakenly pulled into his box. I was looking down at the steering wheel to adjust a switch: when I looked up, I thought I was in my pitbox, but then I saw the Red Bull pitcrew in front of me! But that moment didn't really change my race at all.
“We saw a lot of action out on the track today, but we just weren't quick enough today. For some reason, I really struggled to look after the rear tyres, and fourth place was the best I could get out of my car today.
“Nowadays, getting strategy right is very important. I didn't have a clue where I was going to finish: I could have been seventh, I could have been second.
“Nonetheless, fourth position is a good result, all things considered. Now I'm looking forward to getting back to MTC and improving the car for the next race. We'll be pushing as hard as ever, and this victory will be a great motivator for everybody back in Woking – they'll all be wearing their Rocket Red Victory T-shirts.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh congratulated both drivers on their efforts at the Chinese Grand Prix. He explained the problem with Hamilton’s car before the start, and also why Button missed out on a podium today.
“In grands prix nowadays, there is so much action that, if you get it slightly wrong, you're toast,” he said. “Today, I think both Lewis and Jenson drove brilliant, charging races, just fantastic.
“This was our first win of the year, a really important one, and a reward for all the work that everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has put in over the last six weeks.
“Before the race, we tried to start Lewis's engine, but his car suffered what we believe to have been a fuel flooding issue. At a certain rate, a pressure release valve pops and lets fuel out. It let fuel out into the engine's airtray, flooding it. With too much fuel, the engine won't start, so the mechanics hurriedly took the airtray out – cleaned up the excess fuel and fired it up. We quickly assembled the car and sent it to the grid with 60 seconds to go.
“The mechanics did an absolutely superlative job to identify the problem and rectify it within a very stressful timeframe – they really showed today that they are the best in the world. I take my hat off to them.
“Both drivers' races were eventful: Lewis responded magnificently to the pressure to record one of his most finely judged and aggressive race wins. He really is a magnificent fighter and this victory was the perfect way for us to head into the European season.
“Jenson also drove a fine race, although he was hampered by tyre drop-off issues that sadly left him unable to counter the attack of Mark [Webber] in the closing laps. That was frustrating, but it's racing.
“I think today showed that Formula 1 can deliver spectacular, fast, close, nailbiting racing. That must have been one of the most exciting races I've ever seen. It's incredibly rewarding to know that our sport is in good shape and that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is a winning force in Formula 1 – today will be a fantastic boost for every man and woman in the team, and it will only motivate us to achieve even greater things in Turkey next month.
“Now we've just got to win some more!”