Hamilton on cusp of title after dominant win

2008 Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton was untouchable in the Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton was untouchable in the Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton dominated the Chinese Grand Prix and heads into the final race of 2008 with a strong chance of claiming the title that eluded him last year.

At the scene of his disastrous retirement last year, Hamilton simply ran away with the race this time, leaving the Ferraris to swap positions late in the race to limit the damage to Felipe Massa’s title chances.

After all the hype and tension building over the race start the Grand Prix began in an orderly fashion – the top five crossed the line at the end of lap one in the same order they started. Hamilton got a clean start and team mate Heikki Kovalainen did even better, picking off Fernando Alonso around the outside of turn one.

Alonso came back at Kovalainen though, hustling him around the first lap until Kovalainen ran wide at turn 14, allowing the Renault driver bck ahead.

The only drivers to misbehave were Sebastian Bourdais and Jarno Trulli, who tangled at the first turn. Trulli spun off and pitted with damage at the end of the lap. He limped around another tour with a visibly damaged sidepod, then retired.

Hamilton gets away

The Ferraris simply couldn’t live with Hamilton’s pace in the opening stint. Each time around, the MP4/23 was another two or three tenths further ahead, so that by lap 13 Raikkonen was 4.1s behind.

Massa was having just as much trouble keeping up with Raikkonen, losing just as much time to his team mate in the same 13 laps. But the driver really struggling in the opening phase was Heikki Kovalainen. His brake had visibly been smoking on the grid and he lost around 1.5 seconds per lap to his team mate in the opening stint.

Mark Webber, who started 16th after an engine penalty, made excellent progress in the opening stint. He leapt up to 12th at the start, then picked off Timo Glock, Rubens Barrichello, and Nelson Piquet Jnr to take ninth.

Kovalainen hits trouble

Webber was clearly running light and made his first pit stop on lap 13. But Massa and Alonso came in the next time around. McLaren – possibly reacting to Massa’s stop – brought Hamilton in on the next tour, and Raikkonen pitted at the same time.

This made no material difference to the running order, however. Massa briefly fell behind Robert Kubica, who was running heavy after uncharacteristically qualifying outside the top ten, but it made little difference to his race pace.

Kovalainen pitted on lap 17 but the tyres he took on wouldn’t last the stint. On lap 35 he limped in with a puncture front-right tyre – the same corner of the car where he seemed to have a brake problem earlier in the race. Fifteen laps later Kovalainen came back in to retire.

Hamilton consolidates lead

Hamilton began his second stint with an out lap 1.2s faster than Raikkonen’s. He quickly increased his lead to over seven seconds and kept it at that level.

Meanwhile Ferrari began manoeuvring their drivers to get Massa into the second place he needed to minimise the damage in the championship to Hamilton. Their problem was that Raikkonen had a seven second advantage over Massa, which had been eight seconds until he lost a lot of time lapping Giancarlo Fisichella’s Force India.

Raikkonen lost several seconds during his final pit stop but still found himself over two seconds ahead of Massa. Over the following laps the gap sporadically decreased and finally Raikkonen slowed right down and Massa took second.

Aside from Webber’s moves and a brief pass-and-re-pass between David Coulthard and Bourdais, the Ferrari shuffle was one of very few overtaking moves in a surprisingly calm race.

Hamilton, though, was dominant throughout: he won from pole and set fastest lap, and was fastest in every session bar one. Just as he did at Silverstone, he responded to the criticism and pressure of the previous races with an utterly consummate performance.

But with Massa second and Raikkonen third neither of the titles are decided yet: but Ferrari look as comfortable at the top of the constructors’ leader board as Hamilton does in the drivers’ title race.

Alonso was fourth ahead of the two BMWs, cementing Renault’s resurgence in form. Heidfeld finished fifth ahead of Kubica, whose slim title hopes were finally extinguished.

Timo Glock claimed seventh ahead of Nelson Piquet Jnr, with Sebastian Vettel out of the points.

Coulthard was tenth, suggesting that Webber’s strategy of fuelling light had been a mistake. The Australian finished 14th, behind several cars he had overtaken. Between them were Rubens Barrichello, who put in an excellent performance for Honda, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Bourdais.

Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella rounded off the finishers, with Adrian Sutil joining Kovalainen and Trulli in retirement. It was the sixth mechanically-induced retirement of the year for the Force India man.

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81 comments on Hamilton on cusp of title after dominant win

  1. Katiekate, give credits where its due will ya? Last race the complaints and criticisms were equally split between FIA and Hamilton and rightly so. Today of course all the praise goes to Hamilton and rightly so.

    Btw I agree with qahub, Massa = the best overtaking move ever! Even more brilliant than in Magny Cours!

  2. qazuhb said on 19th October 2008, 11:27

    I discovered it a little too late for it to be really useful, but this brazilian site has a very nice championship simulator, just drag the cars from left column to right one
    http://globoesporte.globo.com/Esportes/Noticias/Formula_1/0,,MUL791543-15011,00-SIMULADOR+F+QUEM+SERA+O+CAMPEAO.html

  3. Nick Caulfield said on 19th October 2008, 11:42

    I don’t have a problem with team orders per se, particularly at this stage in the season but both Ferrari drivers looked humiliated at having to talk about it in the press conference which (for those who do object) is some sort of recompense.

    If people want this to be less of a team sport and more focussed on the individual then the first thing to do would be to restore the old qualifying format where everyone runs light. Actually I’m in favour of that anyway because I have read posts (not generally on this blog) where people have used the chance to speculate on fuel loads to reinforce their own prejudice regarding driver ability and team bias where in fact there is little genuine opportunity to be sure about either from the fans viewpoint.

    Nice quote from Rob Smedley (Massa’s engineer) about Lewis getting more from his car than Heikki so the Mclaren couldn’t have been all that much better than the ferraris.

    Talking about fuel loads, was anyone else surprised to see Massa pitting earlier than Hamilton or Raikkonen after qualifying behind them? It makes sense that Ferrari wanted him lighter but he is usually good at translating that into a grid position where Kimi has struggled this year.

  4. All Hamilton needs to do now is finish 5th in Brazil, and not overdrive it higher if it’s going to cause problems – the latter of which will be harder for him.

    We all know Massa is good at Interlagos, but it’s not going to be enough – just like it was this time last year. Even if Massa and Raikkonen finish 1-2, who will fill in the other 3 slots after them so Lewis can’t claim it? Given the races Lewis has finished I think he’ll still be on the podium in Brazil.

    It’s as good as over for Massa I reckon – I don’t like to give up hope, but last year there was forward momentum for Ferrari, and reverse momentum for Lewis. Only consolation now is the Constructors Championship. Raikkonen had better win it next year to make up for his disastrous season – coming behind Kubica, and not wanting to detract from him because he’s probably been the driver of the year, is unacceptable given the title of “Reigning Champion” and Ferrari’s sterling performance.

  5. Ferrarista said on 19th October 2008, 11:45

    No problem my british mates: In Brazil? Massa and Raikonnen with a fresh new engine, Hamilton with the same as today’s. In Brazil? Hamilton with the engine blow he has not yet had on these last 2 years… hehehe I’m an intruder in this Mclaren blog :D

  6. Great drive by Lewis.. And full credit to Mclaren for producing a bumper car..

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th October 2008, 11:58

    Ferrarista – this is not a McLaren blog. This is an F1 blog. Perhaps you should read this post for an example.

  8. Loki: truly horrifying that an engine blow or any mechanic failure can change the whole momentum thing. The question I asked and everybody asked before this race was if that Lewis could cope with the pressure. With Fuji, Shanghai 07 and Interlagos 07 in mind that was a valid doubt. I think we now can look back to Monaco and Silverstone as the benchmark races instead. Lewis is good at bouncing back, going back to Interlagos this year he is mentally strong enough.

    Bbut will the car cope with potential heat in Sao Paulo? That’s anyone’s guess. That is why the team desperately need Heikki to up his game and go for a finish ahead of the Ferraris, especially with a fresh engine. In the worst(or best) scenario with hamilton out Heikki could still maybe save the title for LH by finishing first and Massa third or lower. The support the Ferrari drivers has given eachother has been invaluable at this stage.

  9. NDINYO said on 19th October 2008, 12:22

    Keith, Hamilton has the joker engine option for Brazil doesn’t he? I know Kova utilized his a couple of races ago but haven’t heard anything about Ham using his. Can you confirm for us the status?

  10. Oliver said on 19th October 2008, 12:25

    @Kate
    Every one is entitled to their opinion. Someone thinks Lewis is brilliant another one thinks he is not. We don’t all have to agree with one post. But if that is all you can say about this article then there is clearly something wrong somewhere. In my opinion, the driver who under performed the most this year was Kimi, who is the current world champion and the highest paid driver, with about 7 seasons experience in F1, can not keep up with a driver who is only in his second year of F1 racing. Would be good if you tell us who your favorite driver is, so we can cheer for him also.

  11. alberto said on 19th October 2008, 12:54

    whats your opinion guys on bou/tru first corner?
    seems tru was hoping the outside til hei came over, then we miss the action on the take focusing on front… at that time tru seems to be half a car on front of bou, but still don’t having the racing line, was he much too optimistic tryin’ to get the line a bit early?
    thx!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQYSgCtoysY

  12. @NDINYO
    he wont be allowed the joker according to the regs – http://www.formula1.com/news/features/2008/2/7366.html

    today’s race was bit of a yawn, but having said that, it was refreshing to see a race without controversy (despite massa’s poor form and even poorer ‘pass’ on kimi).

  13. Anyone notice how easily Alonso outdragged Kova down the long straight even without the help of a slipstream? Reports of Renaults engine being underpowered are greatly exaggerated

    I’ve heard Renault has been working hardly with Elf and they have obtained 6 hp extras since the last four races.

  14. David - BR said on 19th October 2008, 14:20

    Jian

    Actually it’s cold and rainy for this time of year, at least here in Rio. São Paulo in two weeks could be cooler than usual, and rain is always a good possibility in southeastern Brazil.

  15. Lewis was catching Heikki, but Heikki pulled over like he was parking the car. Lewis would have needed some laps to pass him, which may have caused his tires to lose their ultimate grip and less he may have been unable to pass the others for the win…although they also pulled over for him, so most likely not.

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