The penultimate F1 grand prix kicked off with the rookie leading the pack with Kimi Raikkonen in second place.
This Sunday Hamilton planned to seal his maiden world championship aspirations by winning it for Mercedes powered Mclaren.
With the rain making its presence known in the race, it seemed to be another nail biter. The lights pushed all the 22 drivers rushing towards the first corner in the 14 turn Chinese Grand Prix.
The first corner was uneventful if Schumacher’s spin is discounted. Alonso on the very next turn got the third spot but very briefly, only to loose it back to Massa. Hamilton made a clean break with Raikkonen making a sluggish start in the rain.
Hamilton was pulling ahead of the pack, with Raikkonen slowly building up a gap between his Ferrari compatriot Massa and Mclaren loose canon Alonso. The rain had stopped for the time being and more was predicted with the first pit stop window opening. Hamilton pit and a close look at the tires showed that he had grained them and the treads had faded beyond recognition.
It was an – only fuel stop, which looked potentially dangerous with Hamilton not looking very comfortable in this awkward track, which went from bone dry to damp to soaking wet!
After the front runners pit stops were all done, the lead was resumed by Hamilton with Raikkonen just 4.7 seconds behind the leader and looking as strong as ever. Back in the field the reigning Constructor champs- Renault looked out of sorts and could not seem to get any grip or a know-how of the track, with Heikki Kovalainen leading a pack of five cars with each, with a shot at taking each others position, a very quick Toyota of Ralf Schumacher looked threatening. The German has announced that he would not race for Toyota next year looked to impress the other teams by his skills, but a few too many spins onto the tarmac might have damaged his plans.
Hamilton was drifting his car over the corners- the worst move to make on a track which had extreme conditions, the Finn on the other hand was doing the basics right, with a lot of control and flair Kimi was closing up on the rookie.It was lap 27 when the rain had stopped, none was predicted, half the pack was on Slicks and the rest were on worn out intermediates. Massa lost a place to Alonso as he grained his tires and had absolutely no grip, the Brazilian, pitted and was on dry weather tires.
No one could deny that the drama was far from being ended.
Raikkonen was loving the track, he felt at home, the Ferrari team looked confident, but the million hearts of the “Lewis Hamilton fan club” stopped, Hamilton’s reckless driving had caused his rear right to fray, the Brit looked in trouble, with the entire lap distance left to get to the pit, Hamilton could not pull away anymore, only one man had noticed this, Raikkonen!!
He had pulled up right on the rear of Hamilton and looked good to take the position away from him, yellow flags were being waved, another spin by Ralf Schumacher on the gravel had sent him into retirement and Adrian Sutil had crashed into the barriers.
Raikkonen could not overtake and the victory which he could taste was looking distant, the flags were reeled in, and Kimi pulled ahead overtaking very neatly and without any mistakes. Hamilton’s errors continued as he continued to push and slide the car which was straining under the torture. The Finn was a full second and a half ahead of the Englishman when he made another mistake, sending groans across the grandstands. Many celebrated but a fair few were distraught.Hamilton had overshot the left into the pit lane and was beached in the gravel trap right on the entrance of the pit lane!
Hamilton was stuck, the engine was running, the tires were spinning but the car couldn’t be pushed by the raw power of his Mercedes powered engine and the stewards. Hamilton was out of the race; his dream of comprehensively clinching the title was crushed.
The Brit left his car and began the long painful walk back to the garage.
To rub salt in the wounds, Ferrari called Kimi in to put on dry tires and fill his car up with fuel, the Brit could only watch!
Kimi rejoined in second with Kubica looking strong and pulling ahead in his BMW but as luck would have it, the BMW gave way, it had no drive, and Kubica parked his car in the turf while the Raikkonen took the lead.
Raikkonen led Alonso by 11 seconds with Massa less than a second behind Alonso, Massa playing the perfect team mate by trying to get a position to help the Finn close in on his championship dream.
The Spaniard but then began to consistently pull away from the Brazilian while he lost grip yet again but did not push his car over the limit unlike Hamilton.
Alonso and Raikkonen started trading fastest laps and Alonso looked like closing in on the gap and pushed it down to 8 seconds, but Raikkonen’s ploy had worked, he had made Alonso push too hard and was loosing grip and fuel seemed to be a factor now.
Raikkonen then started to stretch his legs and was taking the race away from Alonso.
Looking beyond the three there was a surprise entrant into the top four, Sebastian Vettel of Torro Rosso, the gamble on the single pit stop had worked, both their cars were in the to 8, Liuzzi was placed on 6th.
The man on 5th was Jenson Button; the Honda car had finally put Button in the points. The end of the race was not without the drama; Vettel was low on fuel and was running on fumes, back at 8th spot Red Bull pro David Coulthard was coming under pressure from a resurgent Kovalainen trying to get the last point.
Nick Heidfeld finished 7th with 2 points for BMW.
Kimi Raikkonen did not put a wheel wrong, inch perfect drive by the Finn has opened up the competition. It is now a three way battle into the last race.
Just 7 points separate the three drivers; all three stake their claim on the crown.
The Rookie, the Spaniard and the Iceman, all three will want to get that coveted trophy.
It will all be decided, come Interlagos, the best race in the calendar.
Who will win this year- it’s anybody’s guess!!