Chinese GP 2007 review: Raikkonen win blows title race open

Chinese Grand Prix 2007, Shanghai International Circuit, start, 2 | DaimlerThe F1 drivers’ championship will go down to the final race at Interlagos as Lewis Hamilton failed to score in Shanghai while title rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso finished first and second.

Hamilton retired on his way into the pits after delaying his switch to slick tyres until it was too late.

That let through Raikkonen to lead Alonso home while Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button finished well for Toro Rosso and Honda.

With typhoon Krosa in the region wet weather was widely predicted for the race and the teams had taken it into account before qualifying. But if anything many people probably expected more rain than the damp, greasy track that greeted the on race day.

But with more rain forecast to fall as the race was starting every driver on the grid opted for wet tyres – with the Spykers gambling on extreme wets.

Lewis Hamilton headed the field and made a clean start while his team mate Alonso got stuck into Felipe Massa. He squeezed past the Brazilian in the opening sequence of bends but Massa popped back up the inside of him at the following bend to take third.

Chinese Grand Prix 2007, Shanghai International Circuit, start | GEPA / Mathias KniepeissAs the cars funnelled into the slippery first turn Ralf Schumacher was squeezed out and spun. Jenson Button was briefly delayed and slipped down the order.

As the drivers completed the second lap it was clear that the leading pair had more pace than the rest – Hamilton did a 1’47.6, Raikkonen a 1’48.5, and no-one else was under 1’49.

Hamilton increased his pace even as more rain fell, taking up to one second per lap off Raikkonen to take a 6.6s lead by lap nine.

Rubens Barrichello tapped Anthony Davidson into a spin at the start of lap two, causing damage to the Super Aguri that would eventually force the Briton to retire.

Vitantonio Liuzzi had made an excellent start, passing fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber for seventh at the hairpin on the first lap. He moved up to six behind David Coulthard on lap four by passing Nick Heidfeld.

Liuzzi’s team mate Sebastian Vettel had also made a strong start from 17th, taking tenth off Heikki Kovalainen on lap five.

The rain fell for around five laps before easing and soon afterwards the drivers were running across the damper sections of track to cool their tyres. Raikkonen had begun to get on terms with Hamilton but not before the gap had increased to nine seconds.

Part of Hamilton’s pace was explained by his early first pit stop, which came on lap 14. Now Raikkonen let rip, setting a string of new fastest laps before his stop on lap 18, after which he emerged from the pits four seconds behind Hamilton.

Massa made his pit stop on lap 16 and Alonso came in on the next lap, just failing to get out of the pits ahead of the Brazilian. None of the drivers thus far had changed their tyres, preferring to keep hot, worn intermediate tyres on their cars.

Ralf Schumacher mounted a fight back after his earlier problems, passing Button for 14th on lap 16 and then taking Kovalainen around the outside of turn one just a few corners later.

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Shanghai, 2007 | Charles Coates / LAT PhotographicBy lap 21 he was up with Nico Rosberg and took 12th. But his charge was halted when he tripped over Liuzzi on the next lap. Three laps later the rain began to fall again and after another spin at the final turn he puled into the pits and retirement from what could be his penultimate Grand Prix.

The return of rain caused a major headache for most of the runners. Up front the leaders who had lapped the quickest had the least life left in their tyres – including Raikkonen bust most of all Hamilton.

Several drivers further down the field had begun switching to dry weather tyres and found the conditions were briefly in their favour – Alexander Wurz setting the fastest lap of the race so far on lap 23.

As the rain eased again Raikkonen was consistently and substantially faster than Hamilton, taking 2.5s off him on lap 27 to cut the lead to less than a second. Hamilton defended boldly for as long as he could but his tyres were clearly not equal to the task, and Raikkonen scrambled past on lap 28.

Further back Alonso was released when Massa pitted for dry weather tyres on lap 26, and the Spaniard was lapping faster than both of the leaders. He took 3.7s off Hamilton lap 29, by which time it was becoming clear that Hamilton was in severe tyre trouble.

The white tyre canvas was becoming visible on the right-rear tyre of the Briton’s McLaren, and he struggled to put Jarno Trulli’s Toyota a lap down. Still he stayed on track and on lap 30 he lost 7.7s to Alonso.

In the light of what happened next it’s easy to criticise McLaren for not pitting Hamilton earlier. For when he finally came into the pits with his rear tyres in shreads he understeered wide on the corner leading into the pit lane, and came to rest in a tiny gravel trap on the outside of the corner. He gestured for a push and received none, and the championship leader was out of the race.

His team had been preparing dry weather tyres for him, and that was what Raikkonen came in to switch to on the very next lap, followed by Alonso on lap 32. Alonso came out of the pits right behind Massa, who had stuck with his dry weather tyres during the brief rain, and kept the Ferrari driver at bay.

Robert Kubica, Shanghai, BMW, 2007 | BMW MediaThose pit stops put Robert Kubica’s BMW in the lead of the race, but only for a heartbreaking few minutes. His car failed him, and he thumped the steering wheel in frustration as the BMW coasted to a halt.

Several drivers accustomed to finishing towards the rear of the field gambled on the weather conditions and saw their numbers come up. One of them was Jenson Button, who on dry weather tyres set the fastest lap of the race on lap 33 having taken sixth.

Kubica’s retirement put Button fifth, which became fourth when he passed Vettel on lap four.

But if Button and Honda had called the conditions well, Vettel and Toro Rosso did it perfectly, switching to slicks and fuelling to the end of the race at exactly the right moment. Vettel took fourth place back when Button stopped for more fuel on lap 42.

Alonso settled in behind Raikkonen but couldn’t find the pace to attack the Ferrari. Massa slipped back from Alonso too, and the top three were set until the end.

Wurz, who had made an early switch to dry weather tyres, took sixth off Liuzzi on lap 35, but fell out of the points scoring positions when he pitted on lap 37.

Fisichella’s last pit stop on lap 46 dropped him out of the points as well and set the finishing order, promoting Button to fourth.

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2007 | Ferrari mediaRaikkonen’s victory gave Ferrari their 200th championship win and kept his slender hopes of winning the championship alive. But the real winner in the championship race was Alonso, whose second place moves him within four points of Hamilton.

Massa took third and Vettel bounced back from his disappointment at Fuji to take fourth. He and Liuzzi, sixth, broke Toro Rosso’s points duck. Between the pair was Button, whose four points for fifth puts Honda ahead of Super Aguri, although they also fall behind Toro Rosso.

Nick Heidfeld was seventh on a day when once again BMW failed to capitalised on mixed conditions. Coulthard hung onto eighth ahead of Kovalainen.

The remaining finishers were Webber, Fisichella, Wurz, Trulli, Takuma Sato, Rubens Barrichello, Rosberg and Sakon Yamamoto.

Hamilton’s lead is cut to four points over Alonso, with Raikkonen just three points further behind. It will be a three-way fight for the title in Brazil.

Race rating

Classic wet/dry drama from start to finish.

Photos: Daimler | GEPA / Mathias Kniepeiss | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic | BMW media | Ferrari media

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35 comments on Chinese GP 2007 review: Raikkonen win blows title race open

  1. Heather said on 7th October 2007, 19:40

    It was a great race, wetter is better!
    GO Fernando…. it would be great to see him win again.
    It’s been a crazy year!

  2. Andy J said on 7th October 2007, 19:47

    Hamilton can & will win the championship…better than that whinging spaniard.

  3. And Lewis has not been a whiner? Where have you been all this times when watching F1, Andy J?

  4. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 21:12

    Alonso, would win the whiner championship this year by a long shot, I dont see anyone coming close.

    By the way, if Alonso wins this championship, and says he would like to thank the team and the mechanics, then he should not be taken seriously.

  5. Victor said on 7th October 2007, 22:10

    Oliver, Alonso actually said to the spanish TV that the preasure of his latest tyres during qualifying was extremely high, again.

    Dennis: “We weren’t racing Kimi, we were basically racing Fernando.”
    Source: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/63139

    Unless another Hamilton retirement happens so the team has to decide between Alonso and Kimi to win the championship, I think Alonso will have very few chances in Brazil.

  6. Andy J said on 7th October 2007, 22:41

    Prehaps, BR, Mr Alonso should know better. Don’t you think?

  7. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 23:00

    Dennis always talks like that, using the term “we”, besides he was asked about Hamilton, and not the team, no one asked about Alonso’s strategy.

    Speaking of very high tyre pressures, dont make me laugh, and Alonso shouldnt make me laugh either. After the qualifying when Alonso commented, he said he felt he had done a wonderful lap, until he saw times, and a driver can only say that if he had confidence inside the car. Assuming for he had really very high tyre pressures, he would quickly lose the car balance which would make the car very jittery even in a straight line, not to talk of those fast corners.

    My belief:- Alonso is just making up excuses, because he felt he wont win the championship because his rookie team mate was rather strong.

    Lets not forget same race last year, Alonso while driving for Renault, was claiming that he felt the team didnt want him to win the championship, that he felt deserted. Even Briatore his manager, had to comment that he didnt know where Alonso got that from.

  8. verasaki said on 7th October 2007, 23:34

    Hey, I’m watching US Speed tv’s re run of the race and they’re saying the rumour is if Hamilton had won this race McLaren was prepared to put DeLa Rosa into Alonso’s seat. Okay, the keyword here is RUMOUR, and as Matchett (thank you, GB, for not paying that guy enough to stay there) pointed out, Alonso might have had the first word there. But, whatever anyone feels about Alonso, Hamilton or McLaren if it were true would that not sort of hint that there is something inherently fluid about the contract and verbal agreements made within that team? Keep in mind, this is a team that already has 2 former drivers that McLaren…okay, let’s be real, Dennis, told could still race a few races for them because “they still had a contract”?

  9. John F said on 8th October 2007, 0:18

    I heard the same thing. I could not believe my ears did they really say that?? Alonso’s pass on Massa was brilliant. How could they keep him out of Brazil. I am still trying to fiquire out how Dennis could do this with his contract. I am far from a fan of Alonso. I may not like him personally but as a driver the man is fantastic. He has so much talent but not a nice person. Hamilton will still win the championship I feel Alonso will be second. Or Alonso will do something stupid and put them both out with Kimi the winner. I like Kimi but he does not talk much and in this series we like controversy we need a champion that has the ablility to attract controversy and Kimi is to straight laced for that. It will be an interesting two weeks at the McLaren camp. I would love to be a fly on the wall during their daily meetings. About the rumor. Speed never said who the rumor came from. They did not discuss it after they (Bob Varsha) said it. Maybe he realized after that he should not have said it. I am very curios as to where the rumor started If anyone has some information about this please post it!!!!!!

  10. verasaki said on 8th October 2007, 1:14

    John F, the condition seemed to be that Hamilton would have had to tie up the championship this race. I have no idea where the rumour actually came from or if it was true… Speed reported on race broadcast as rumour so, I think it may have been more than just that they’re usually really careful about what they say along those lines. The thing is, regardeless, if the constructor points hadn’t been yanked, Alonso would have been key in winning them the constructor title. Alonso may have told Dennis he’d grass to the FIA but the grass was actually Dennis. So who actually lost that team the constructor’s title?

    I think the problem this year has been it’s all been about the cult of personality overriding the actual sport. Not a trend I’d care to see kept going. Alonso isn’t nice, not not nice either, he’s a driver. Kimi keeps his mouth shut-not that anyone would notice or understand either way, and big deal! The series doesn’t need personality, it doesn’t need controversy, it needs good tracks, solid rules and balls to the wall competition on the track. I’m not sure I’d describe Kimi as straight laced, though.

  11. Victor said on 8th October 2007, 1:34

    - “By the way, if Alonso wins this championship, and says he would like to thank the team and the mechanics, then he should not be taken seriously.”

    I doubt he’s doing that. If I remember correctly when he won the first championship he said he had nothing to thank to anyone (yep, he’s not the nicest guy). But now that you say it I’ll be also very intersting to see how the team celebrates the title if that happens.

  12. oliver said on 8th October 2007, 1:50

    Well Victor, conspiracy theories aside, at the stage of his travails, would he want to admit that he was slower, come on. His car set the second fastest time in the race, I didnt hear him complain about that.Then press conference he is talking opposite, that he knows he will get equal treatment. I think he is losing it. What about Massa, he had less fuel and was to be miles ahead of Kimi, but he admitted he made a mistake.

  13. oliver said on 8th October 2007, 2:15

    I would advice no one pays attention to rumours. Half the time those commentators dont even know what they are talking about. Some times they even start the rumours themselves just to knock head, then some not to bright individual would then go and comment on a rumour as if it were fact.

    To take it even further, the bulk of the confusion we get about the drivers and activities on track are often caused by these commentators who cant even see whats happening on track. Imagine on ITV they cant even see a car as big as Wurz’s Williams, being over taken by Ralph. But they can supposedly spot microscopic inscriptions on a tyre, indicating that Alonso’s tyres where being brought out for Hamiltons pit stop. At least they did try to correct that much later, but most often suggestions made during a race, is heard by all and never retracted.

  14. Its good to see that the last race will decide the winner. Hamilton is still my favourite to win and he should win and be crowned at Interlagos.

  15. Ok, now maybe, just maybe Kimi can win the championship! Here’s hoping that the humongous ego of Alonso crushes him down, and in the way, the McLaren of Hamilton in the first corner of interlagos.

    Now, seriously, either Ham or Kimi, but i really don’t want Alonso to win. Complaining that Lewis is getting better equipment, but demanding it for himself? Among other things, he’s a cry-baby. Albeit one that can drive bloody good that is.

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