Chinese JP – 07-10-07

Alonso congratulates Raikonnen

Coming into the race weekend it really should of just been an easy day at the office for Lewis Hamilton, sure the win would be nice, but it wasn’t critical to take the championship – just finish ahead of Alonso by 2 points or more, and higher than 6th should Raikonnen win. Free practice showed that Ferrari clearly had the advantage, but McLaren were up there with them, and somehow come qualifying Hamilton pieces together an amazing lip to take pole having spent much of the time in 4th behind Alonso, both Ferraris were behind him, with Alonso in 4th. So the scene was set, and Lewis had one hand on the trophy already.

Race day arrived and there was the threat of rain, with the track proving to be greasy and the drivers electing to use the intermediate tyre as further showers were predicted soon after the start, but at least there would be no Safety Car start this time. As the lights went out, both Hamilton and Raikonnen made perfect starts with Hamilton leading into turn 1, behind them Alonso came round the outside of Massa, and looked determined to take 2nd from Raikonnen at one point, but ultimately slotted into 3rd, only to be out of place for six as Massa outbraked him up the inside and took his place back.

So it looked like that was it, no championship chance for Alonso and Hamilton was opening a steady gap at the front despite the rain that appeared on lap 2, Raikonnen seemingly having mentally given up. Come lap 15, Hamilton came in for his first pit stop, and with the track now drying, elected to remain on the inters with his front right tyre well scrubbed to the point of being a slick. Both Massa and Alonso quickly followed and Raikonnen came in on lap 19, having made the most of his extra time whilst light to close the gap on Hamilton, however, Hamilton seemed to have the race under control, instantly responding to this new threat.

The track was now becoming increasingly dry, and despite the prediction of more showers, Wurz gambled in his pit stop and elected to go to dry tyres, which started a trend as both the Red Bull drivers pitted for slicks. Alonso passed Massa for third which prompted Massa to dive into the pits on lap 27 for dry tyres, whilst Hamilton was struggling to cool his tyres, having to search out the puddles. Raikonnen caught him, and was soon all over the back of him as Hamilton struggled with an increasingly difficult car on worn tyres. What was going on? Come in and change the tyres!!! OK, if he stayed a bit longer and got the perfect pit window, the team were going to of made a very brave tactical decision. Ultimately Raikonnen made his way past at turn 9, and surely now the team must bring him in, but no, he still stayed out, even with a rear tyre seemingly beginning to delaminate and Alonso catching him. Trulli unlapped himself and at last on lap 31 Hamilton made for the pits, diving in from behind the Toyota.

As Hamilton rounded the 90 degree corner into the pits it was clear he was running wide, and took to the gravel, surely it would hook back in? No, he’s going on to to the crash barrier! Just as he looked like he’d contact the car turned a bit, and a huge sigh of relief as it looked like he’d get back on the pit road, and then the car beached! There were anxious moments as the marshalls were at first confused about what to do, and then tried to push, but to no avail and Hamilton had to abandon.

Despondant Hamilton

With renewed vigour, both Raikonnen and Alonso pitted for dry tyres and drove a faultless remainder of the race to take 1st and 2nd, and secure a chance at the title in the final race (Raikonnen’s win also meant the 200th win for Ferrari).

Further back in the field there had been plenty of fun and games, with Vettel coming 4th after a fortunately timed pit stop on a 1 stop strategy enabling him to move to dry tyres. Jenson Button had slid backwards at the start, from 10th on the grid to 17th at one point, but as the track came back he started to make up places, reveling in the conditions and showing his class as a driver, ringing the neck of the bad Honda to finish much higher than the car should. For me Button was driver of the day, if he hadn’t slipped back at the start, who knows, maybe even a podium. He’s stated his commitment to Honda for next season, which is a shame, if Alonso’s McLaren seat does become vacant, it would be great to see Hamilton and Button in the same team.

Meanwhile Coulthard came in 8th, having promised much more, but suffering from switching to dry tyres just before another shower, but showing a strong finish as he fended off a charging Kovalainen.

I was disappointed not to see Hamilton take the crown at this race, more because I’m now scared he won’t manage it, although it’s still a tough call for either Alonso or Raikonnen to snatch it from him, but as we saw anything can happen. I’m also disappointed with McLaren getting the call so wrong, and it’s not the first time, after allowing Raikonnen to run with a flat spotted tyre in the past until the vibration shattered the suspension. However, I was impressed to see Hamilton taking the time to thank the team, and watch the race from the pit wall, a much more mature attitude than that shown by Alonso after his poor qualifying the day before when he threw his helmet to the ground and broke his changing room door. So we’ve got to wait 2 weeks to see if he can do it, and I have to stay, whilst gutted, part of me is pleased to see it go down to the wire. Already Hamilton has his detractors, and I too wish there wasn’t so much hype and coverage (ITV is moving from F1 coverage to the Lewis Hamilton show) so it would be great to see him triumph over this further adversity after everything else he has had to contend with, to take the title. That would show that he is true Champion material, and a future great.

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