SHANGHAI, April 18, 2011 (AFP) - A delighted Lewis Hamilton headed home to Europe after winning Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix convinced he can build a convincing title challenge this year and give defending champion Sebastian
Vettel a run for his money.
The 26-year-old Briton and his McLaren team-mate compatriot Jenson Button, 31, finished first and fourth in the third race of the 2011 season at the Shanghai International Circuit 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.
"Maybe that's where I should always start," joked Webber. "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." Webber's support was an unexpected, but welcome boost for Hamilton as he weighed up his position in the light of his 15th career win and his first since last year's Belgian Grand Prix.
As most close observers of the sport have noted this year, 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.
"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."
After two wins and a second place Vettel leads the title standings with 68 points ahead of Hamilton on 47 - the two youngest champions in F1 history, crowned in 2010 and 2008 respectively - with Button third on 38 and Webber
fourth on 37.
Of that foursome, only Webber has never been crowned champion - an ambition he deserves to keep alive after Sunday's awesome demonstration of commitment, skill and courage in an incident packed race that was a near-perfect
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"It was very enjoyable, great fun and we never really knew what was going on out there," said Button, champion of 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," he said.