Hamilton enjoyed a great start and managed to pass Vettel by the first corner, but it was his teammate Jenson Button who got the most of it, as he exited Turn 1 as race leader. The two McLarens then managed to put some distance between them and Vettel, but by Lap 10 the front of the field was condensed within a few seconds.
While the two British drivers pitted earlier in the race and eventually went for a 3-pitstop strategy on Sunday, Vettel remained on the track longer and started losing time to the trailing Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Nico Rosberg also managed a good start and retained his 4th place in the race, but the German made an early visit through the pitlane, making clear his team’s 3-pitstop strategy.
Following the first round of pitstops, Rosberg benefited from all the other drivers running into traffic and took first place, ahead of Vettel, Button, Massa and Hamilton. And from this pack, only Vettel and Button were committed to 2-pitstop strategies, while the others were racing for seconds in their attempt to make up for their additional pitstop.
Once Vettel and Massa pitted, they emerged on track in 4th and 5th, respectively, but with the entire race to themselves, tackled on the prime hard tire. Rosberg, Hamilton and Button all pitted for the last time, taking on the soft compound, and from that point on the trio started gaining seconds on the front-runners.
Hamilton was the first to react and passed Button on Lap 35, after which he took advantage of Rosberg’s low-fuel warning from his pitbox and overtook the German for 3rd. Massa was next, and the Brit had no problem using his fresh tires to pass the Ferrari-an with 12 laps to go, setting up a great battle for 1st place against Vettel.
As he clearly benefited from better traction and grip in the final stages of the race, Hamilton passed the German with 4 laps to go, and never looked back until the finish line.
Vettel had to settle for 2nd place and was lucky enough that the race finished on Lap 56. His teammate Mark Webber managed a sensational race in China and, despite his 3-pitstop strategy and 18th place starting position on the grid, surprised the audience in his last stint, when he recovered more than 20 seconds from the leading pack in less than 10 laps.
The Australian passed Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Button in a matter of laps and finished in 3rd place, less than 2 and a half seconds from Vettel.
Michael Schumacher crossed the finish line in 8th place, after showing impressive pace at one point on the Shanghai track on Sunday, while Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi made the last two point-scoring positions, ranking 9th and 10th, respectively.