After the water-logged madness of Japan Formula One moves swiftly along to China, where for the first time this season the drivers' title could be decided. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of making history as the first ever rookie champion but you can bet your bottom dollar his rivals still in the fight will battle to the bitter end.
Fernando Alonso's hopes took rather a battering, as did his McLaren, at Fuji when he aquaplaned out of the race and into the wall. Kimi Raikkonen claimed he could have won in Japan but was thwarted from the outset by Ferrari apparently not receiving an email from the stewards that indicated everyone should start on extreme wet tyres.
The Ferraris didn't, which meant they were in the pits rather quickly to necessitate the change and dropped to near the back. Felipe Massa's title chances are now nil but Raikkonen and Alonso are still in it -- just. They really need something peculiar to happen to Hamilton so he doesn't score any points. You just never know: one race can change a lot, as we just saw last weekend.
Shanghai is one of the modern circuits on the calendar and it's often described as quite a challenge. The nearly 5.5km track has two long straights combined with a fairly tight section of corners and overall it's not hugely different in car requirements from Fuji. Downforce is medium to high and good stability can make a real difference.
"Due to the continual directional changes of the infield section, we run a high rear wing level at Shanghai," said Williams technical director Sam Michael. "There is, however, a very long straight where top speed is important so that has to be considered in our set-up plans although, compared to other tracks, the car's mechanical set-up is not taken to any extremes."
The track is already a favourite for some of the drivers. "You approach the first turn at high speed, go into it flat out, but then the corner increasingly tightens up and you have to shift right down to second," explained BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. "Making a clean exit will be even more interesting next year when we'll be driving without traction control again. Overall I'm rather fond of this circuit."
So, three drivers, two races and one championship: it could all be over by Sunday evening. "Anything is still possible but I am feeling confident and very determined and I hope we will have another couple of exciting races," Hamilton commented. "There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about the championship, but I just push that to the back of my mind."
Like his teammate, Alonso is determined not to be distracted. "My retirement in Japan has not made it easy for me in the championship, but there are still 20 points to be won and I am going to fight hard for each one of them," said the Spaniard. "There is always a lot of talk of pressure and distractions at this time of the year, all I think about is racing and winning at Shanghai and Interlagos."
If Alonso's chances are slim, Raikkonen's are near enough invisible but while there's a mathematical possibility the Finn will fight on. "It is better to have a slight hope than no hope at all," he stated. "We will not give up. No way. We are fighters and we will prove it again. Now we do our best to win these last two races. It is up to the others how we finish in the championship."
While Hamilton and Raikkonen were familiar faces on the podium in Japan, Renault's Heikki Kovalainen was not. It was the first F1 podium for Kovalainen but he didn't have much time to celebrate before heading for China. Like Fuji, Shanghai is a new circuit for the rookie but, of course, he's been preparing himself by watching previous races.
"There are some long straights, quick changes of direction and some heavy braking areas," he observed. "At this kind of circuit, you need a very good aero balance on the car to be quick through the fast, flowing sections. We pay a lot of attention to achieving good braking stability because you can gain a lot of time there."
David Coulthard was a strong fourth for Red Bull at Fuji but it could have been even better for teammate Mark Webber. The Australian was second behind Hamilton and closing on the McLaren when he was punted out by Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel. Webber's comments afterwards were rather succinct and it was a shame for Vettel who had a stellar weekend until that moment of distraction.
To add insult to injury, Toro Rosso was stripped of Tonio Liuzzi's one point after he was judged to have overtaken under yellow flags. Spyker's Adrian Sutil was the beneficiary and inherited the eighth place and the point, something that obviously gave the team a boost. "I now really want to get going in China and get some more!" Sutil declared.
Points will be everyone's aim this coming weekend but for some they could be crucial. Hamilton has to finish fifth or higher and in front of Alonso for the title to be his. You'd have to say there's a pretty good chance of it happening but, as always, nothing is guaranteed -- it would be a nicer end to the season to have it go to the final race.