The championship battle will go to the final race of the season after Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen won the Chinese Grand Prix and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton retired from the race. In a thrilling event, Raikkonen dominated the second half to score ...
The championship battle will go to the final race of the season after Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen won the Chinese Grand Prix and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton retired from the race. In a thrilling event, Raikkonen dominated the second half to score Ferrari's 200th Grand Prix win. Fernando Alonso also kept his hopes alive and bought his McLaren home second, while Felipe Massa made a double podium for Ferrari with third.
Just before the start there were intermittent showers and they persisted the whole race, which made it a very unpredictable afternoon. Intermediate tyres were the favoured choice and even as the pack snaked around on the installation lap the rain started again. Pole sitter Hamilton led away and Alonso was very quick off the line, attacking Massa into turn one.
The reigning champion got the advantage but Massa was not about to give up and moved back into third a couple of corners later. Raikkonen held station in second and behind them Toyota's Ralf Schumacher spun from sixth and dropped way back. David Coulthard's Red Bull held fifth and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld was up to the sixth spot.
Tonio Liuzzi made an impression early on and got his Toro Rosso up to seventh, while Mark Webber's Red Bull was eighth and the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen's Renault completed the top 10. Jenson Button's Honda dropped to 11th and Jarno Trulli's Toyota was 12th.
Rubens Barrichello and Anthony Davidson had contact and the Honda and Super Aguri spun but both regained the track. However, Davidson retired shortly afterwards. "He (Barrichello) tagged my right rear going into turn one," said Davidson. "It was really slippery. It was just a small tap but the damage to the bodywork meant my rear brakes overheated. In these conditions it was not worth the risk to carry on."
The Williams of Alex Wurz and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato were fighting like mad, as were the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella and the second Williams of Nico Rosbgerg, all towards the back of the midfield pack. At the front Hamilton was easing away from Raikkonen and Liuzzi got past Heidfeld to take sixth.
Sebastian Vettel, who had started 17th due to a penalty, had got his Toro Rosso up to 11th and battled for 10th to take it from Kovalainen. Likewise Kubica dispatched Webber for ninth and the track was starting to dry out. Kovalainen was really struggling and Trulli and Button were soon past the Renault as well.
On lap 10 (yes, we'd only got that far by then!) the message came that rain was predicted again. Rosberg charged past Button for 13th, with Schumacher and Wurz next in line looking to take advantage. Hamilton was the first into the pits on lap 15 and he didn't change tyres, which pretty much led to his undoing.
Kovalainen was still just hanging in there but had a wobbly moment that allowed Rosberg to slip past and Schumacher was charging up behind. The Toyota had made short work of Button and then scythed past Kovalainen down the straight and through turn one. Elsewhere, Alonso and Massa pitted and the Brazilian remained in front.
Raikkonen was next to take a stop and Hamilton was barrelling down the straight as the Ferrari headed for the exit. Raikkonen was not near enough to challenge but had halved the gap to the McLaren once he was back out. The rain shower duly came and went and yet another was predicted for not long afterwards.
Rosberg and Schumacher were scrapping and despite the weather predictions Webber and Wurz were the first to venture out on dry tyres. Wurz was soon flying around so the track at that point at least was much better. Schumacher's next intended victim was Liuzzi but his ambitions were perhaps a little too much as there was contact and the Toyota spun.
Undeterred, Schumacher continued and Kubica was next to go for dry tyres. Alonso had homed in on Massa and was all over the Ferrari, elbowing past heading for the final straight but then Massa dived in the pits. Raikkonen was reeling Hamilton in slowly but surely and just as Coulthard pitted for dries the rain started drifting back in.
Schumacher's adventurous afternoon came to an end when he spun off and the engine cut out then straight afterwards Adrian Sutil's Spyker hit the wall pretty hard and bought out the yellow flags. Sutil was unharmed but it took a lengthy caution period to remove the damaged car.
"It was just the wrong moment to change to dry (tyres) and tough to drive and suddenly at the last corner the car just went straight on and into the barriers," said Sutil. "We all have to forget this one though and now look to Brazil. There are good races and bad races, and this was just one of those bad ones."
By then Raikkonen was right on Hamilton's rear wing, ducking and diving, looking for a way past but not quite finding it. Rosberg was in then out of the gravel and Hamilton went wide at turn eight and Raikkonen pounced, taking the advantage and getting ahead. Hamilton didn't need the race win so it was still game on at that point.
Rosberg got stuck in a Renault sandwich, Kovalainen and Fisichella either side of the Williams down the straight, with the result that Rosberg skidded over the gravel and Kovalainen only just escaped it, while Fisichella came out ahead. Hamilton now seemed to be in serious trouble, often locking up and running wide, losing time every lap.
Alonso was closing in on his teammate and Hamilton went off track through one and two; it seemed that the tyres he had not changed were on their last threads and possibly even delaminating. Why McLaren or Hamilton himself didn't make the call to pit sooner is baffling but eventually it ended in the inevitable.
He finally headed for the pits but it was too late; he slid off the asphalt at the entry and securely beached the McLaren in the gravel. There was a lot of frantic hand waving to the marshals, who tried in vain to do the old shove-it-out-of-the-gravel trick but this time it wasn't going to work. It was race over for Hamilton.
"Prior to entering the pit lane for my last stop I was constantly talking to the team," he commented. "Although my tyres were in poor condition we took a joint decision to get through the last rain shower before changing to dry tyres. I was trying to be very careful and as a result was not really fighting aggressively with Kimi. It would have worked out perfectly, but I then made a mistake coming into the pitlane and that was it."
Meanwhile, Raikkonen and Alonso visited the pits for the second time and Kubica was then the leader. Massa gave Alonso some severe harassment but to no avail and Kubica's moment of glory was short lived as his BMW coughed out a hydraulic problem that left him trundling over the grass and back to the pits to retire.
"I retired from the race with an hydraulic leak," the Pole said. "That more or less says it all as I found myself with no power steering and no gears. It was looking pretty good up to then. We stayed out when it started raining with grooved tyres for three or four laps, which was very difficult, but it paid off. However, in the end it didn't pay off because I couldn't finish the race."
Button and Vettel were arguing and Button got the upper hand for fourth, and behind them Liuzzi, Wurz and Fisichella made up the rest of the top eight. Wurz then pitted and Fisichella homed in on Liuzzi, passing the Toro Rosso down the back straight. Heidfeld was next to set his sights on Liuzzi and Button pitted, allowing Vettel back into fourth.
In the closing stages the track was near enough dry and with no more rain predicted for the final laps things calmed down a little. Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa were fairly well paced about eight seconds apart in each case and while there was some question about whether Vettel had to pit again, it turned out he didn't.
Webber was having a go at Coulthard in front and indulged in a little semaphore hand-waving to indicate his apparent discontent with whatever his teammate did, so Kovalainen took the opportunity to sneak past. Massa was belting out fastest laps at the end but by then it was over, Raikkonen taking the chequered flag ahead of Alonso and the Brazilian.
Phew, what a race! The championship is back on and there's still three drivers in it. Obviously Raikkonen and Alonso are still on the back foot but the gap from Hamilton is now Alonso four points behind and Raikkonen seven. It's fitting that the last race at Interlagos will be the final showdown; it's how a season should end.
"Last week in Fuji, we were unlucky but today things went right for us," said Raikkonen. "We have had yet another example that in this sport anything can happen. The situation in the drivers' classification is still difficult, but I will try everything to win in Brazil, even if the final outcome does not just depend on what we do. It should be a great battle, very hard to predict and interesting."
Alonso lost time behind Massa early on but was overall fairly happy. "It was difficult towards the end on the wet Bridgestone tyres as they were practically slick, but we stayed out as long as possible to get through the final shower, which was the right decision as I was able to come out ahead of Felipe on my final stop," he commented. "Although this result is a boost to my chances in the Championship it is still not going to be easy."
The weather didn't favour Massa today. "I had hoped to be fighting for the win, but the race was affected by the changing weather conditions," the Brazilian said. "At the moment I switched to dry tyres, the timing was not ideal. The rain came back immediately and it was really difficult to stay on track. In any case, in these instances, it can pay off to take risks: sometimes it works out and sometimes not."
It was an amazing result in Shanghai for Toro Rosso, with Vettel fourth and Liuzzi sixth. For a team that has struggled to get even one car any where near the points it's been a real eye-opening turn around in the last couple of races. Honda was rewarded with Button fifth, while Heidfeld and Coulthard scored the last points in seventh and eighth.
It was scant consolation for Red Bull after both cars qualified well; Webber only managed 10th behind Kovalainen. Fisichella followed on in 11th, then came Wurz, Trulli, Sato, Barrichello, Rosberg and Yamamoto. Toro Rosso was the overall gainer in the constructors' positions, up two places to seventh.
While it was obviously disappointing for Hamilton, this race was a real tonic after the recent ups and downs. The rain was never enough to be a problem but added a lot of unpredictability, which kept it interesting all the way through -- and now we have a title-deciding last event. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Vettel, Button, Liuzzi, Heidfeld, Coulthard.