The title race is really on now

April, 20, 2011

Every desired element seemed to come together in Shanghai: a dramatic ending, overtaking at seemingly every corner, race strategies that shifted throughout and the underlying doubt of which driver would come out on top.

Lewis Hamilton ultimately exercised a fantastic drive, overtaking Sebastian Vettel in the waning laps to claim victory for the first time since August. And he very nearly didn't even make the starting grid.

Pre-race issues involving a fuel leak nearly sidelined Hamilton, but the team made the starting grid in time. It had no ill effects, as Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button rocketed past Vettel before the first turn.

It was a warning sign for Red Bull, as the only team that had challenged Vettel this season was finally out front.

Button led early, but it was Hamilton who passed defending champion Vettel on Lap 52 as the young German struggled on worn tires.

Hamilton's three-stop strategy looked like the winning formula, as Vettel was the only one of the top-five finishers to stop just twice. It was Hamilton's 15th Formula One victory, one shy of Sterling Moss for 14th all time.

Hamilton also continues to ascend the wins list within his storied team. Hamilton is still 20 wins shy of the most by a McLaren driver (Ayrton Senna), and while that may seem like a distant milestone, consider that he is just 26.

In addition, Hamilton's collected his 15 wins in just over four full seasons. If he remains with the team, that record could be his well before his career is over.

Most importantly, his victory Sunday signaled a true challenger for Red Bull in 2011.

The defending constructors' champions still had an impressive day despite not taking a victory back to Austria, however. Vettel posted the fastest times in each practice and captured the pole, while Mark Webber fought valiantly throughout the day, turning a dreadful 18th-place start on the grid into an incredible podium drive.

Of his previous 20 podium results, Webber had never started worse than sixth.

As for Vettel, he finished a strong second and extended his run of five straight podiums, the longest streak of his young F1 career.

He leads Hamilton by 21 points in the World Championship, and considering that he entered with a 24-point lead, he did not lose much ground in the end.

As thrilling as the racing was, China was also a bit of an interesting race from an historical perspective.

The event featured the most classified finishers in F1 history (23), and the six race leaders are the most since Japan in 2008. Jaime Alguersuari was the only man who failed to finish, but through no fault of his own, as his wheel came loose after a mishandled pit stop.

While McLaren was busy picking up its 170th F1 win, second-most all time, the teams first and third on that list continue to struggle.

Williams -- third all time with 113 victories -- is enduring the longest winless drought in team history and has yet to score a point this season. Rookie Pastor Maldonado has run just 42 percent of the possible laps, while veteran Rubens Barrichello has not finished better than 13th.

It's the first time since 2002 that Barrichello has not finished better than 13th in any of his first three races of the season, and it's certainly put Williams technical director Sam Michael on the hot seat.

Ferrari -- first all time with 215 victories -- has also proved to be relatively uncompetitive compared to last year and is already 55 points shy of Red Bull in the race for the constructors' title.

The Maranello outfit showed good pace at times in China but ultimately finished over 15 seconds behind Hamilton. Twice this season, the fastest Ferrari driver has finished over 30 seconds shy of the winner.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso has also run among the top three positions for roughly just 13 percent of the time this season. Quite a disparity when you consider that he did not leave the top three for the entire season-opening win last year in Bahrain.



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