Without fuss or bother, Lewis Hamilton drove from pole to redemption in winning Sunday's Grand Prix of China with ease. After failing to notch up the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship at this race last year as a rookie, Hamilton...
Without fuss or bother, Lewis Hamilton drove from pole to redemption in winning Sunday's Grand Prix of China with ease. After failing to notch up the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship at this race last year as a rookie, Hamilton presented his McLaren Mercedes team a first victory at Shanghai International Circuit. His sure-footed capture of pole, fast lap and victory served to suppress chatter that followed him from last weekend's race in Japan, where his first-corner, penalty-gaining maneuver on Kimi Raikkonen kicked up criticism and added to an array of mistakes this season.
The grim-faced drivers on the podium were Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Raikkonen. Their prancing steeds lacked the speed needed to challenge the Englishman today. Hamilton finished nearly 15 seconds ahead of title rival Massa, who spent most of the race in third before his world champion teammate surrendered second with six laps left. The Ferrari points score boosted the team's lead in the World Constructors' Championship chase but didn't close out the title. Ferrari lead McLaren 156-145 with a maximum 18 points on offer in Brazil in a fortnight.
The result sends Hamilton to the final race of the season at Interlagos with a seven-point lead over Massa. A third player in the drivers' chase, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, was eliminated after problematic qualifying left him too far out of touch to score highly. Kubica finished sixth behind his teammate, Nick Heidfeld, who finished behind fourth-placed Fernando Alonso in a Renault. Toyota's Timo Glock and Renault's Nelsinho Piquet picked up the final points.
"All weekend we've had God on our side, and the team has done a phenomenal job, really," Hamilton said. "The car felt fantastic all weekend. I owe so much to the guys, not just at the track but back home. They make sure the car stays intact so I can bring it home."
Hamilton called his start, which saw him pull away from the grid in a purposeful line, no zigging or zagging, one of his best this season. He piled on fast lap after fast lap to lead throughout. He said he was cruising after his second pit stop, looking after tires and engine.
"When you're out in front and have a gap and know you can push a little bit more if you need to, it's quite comfortable," he said.
Massa lamented the F2008 could not put him closer to the front.
"We tried to push but it was not possible," he said.
Raikkonen said his nonresistance to Massa's passing maneuver -- an act that might be read as in direct defiance of sporting regulations regarding team orders -- was what needed to be done.
"I know what the team expects and what we want for our results," he said.
Alonso provided the best action of the race as he diced with Hamilton teammate and birthday boy Heikki Kovalainen, who turned 27 on race day. The Finn, whose fifth-place qualification put him in poor position to help Hamilton fend off a Ferrari challenge, slipped past fourth-starting Alonso at the start but the Spaniard wasn't having it and scrapped back. Kovalainen then circulated in fifth for much of the race until a tire puncture sent him to the pits. He retired on Lap 49, leaving the team free to change his engine for Brazil.
"Fourth place is the best result that we could have hoped for today and so I am therefore extremely satisfied with my race," Alonso said. "We had good pace, close to the Ferrari, which is another reason to be pleased. We have now won the battle for fourth place in the constructors' championship, which was our objective, and so we can approach the Brazilian Grand Prix with confidence."
BMW Sauber drivers Heidfeld and Kubica were upbeat despite mathematical elimination from constructors' and drivers' title chases.
"It is a fact we now don't have any hopes of claiming the constructors' title, and neither can Robert win the drivers' championship," Heidfeld said. "But we shouldn't be too disappointed; the team has had a fantastic third season, and Robert, especially, had a very good year. It's not over yet."
Kubica's race left him seeing the sunny side.
"After a very difficult qualifying, I'm pleased with sixth," he said. "I made up a position at the start and then another two when Jarno Trulli and Sebastien Bourdais touched in the first corner. The balance of the car was still not good in the first two stints, and it only changed in the final stint after we changed to the softer compound. There is now one race left, and I shall try hard to defend my third place in the drivers' championship."
Kubica enters the final round six points ahead of Raikkonen.
Running at the end were Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, who finished out of the points for the first time in six races, Red Bull's David Coulthard, Honda's Rubens Barrichello, Toro Rosso's Bourdais, Red Bull's Mark Webber, Williams's Nico Rosberg, Honda's Jenson Button, and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella.
Force India's Adrian Sutil, whose weekend was brightened by news that he and Fisichella will be retained next year, parked the VJM01 only 20 laps into the 56-lap race. Toyota's Trulli, whose coming together with Bourdais on the first lap at first forced him into the pits for a front wing, was forced out altogether after two laps.