SHANGHAI: McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton overcame a pre-race car problem to win a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, passing Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel for the lead with five laps remaining.

Vettel made a strong bid for three straight wins to start the Formula One season but he could not hold off Hamilton, who made one more pit stop than the German and had fresher tires in the closing stages.

Red Bull's Mark Webber was third, driving a superb race after starting 18th on the grid.

Hamilton came close to being out of contention before the race even started, when a fuel leak was discovered in his engine. McLaren mechanics worked frantically in the garage with the seconds ticking down until the pitlane closed. Had they missed the deadline, Hamilton would have started from pitlane rather than third on the grid.

They sent him out on the installation lap with only one minute to spare, but with much of the engine cover missing, and that had to be drilled onto the car while it was sitting on the grid.

McLaren's Jenson Button was fourth, ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who all led at various stages at Shanghai International Circuit.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was seventh, ahead of Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, and Renault's Vitaly Petrov, with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi taking the final point in 10th place.

With three races completed, Vettel leads the drivers' standings on 68 points, ahead of Hamilton on 47, with Button on 38 and Webber on 37.

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