Hamilton wins sweet and sour yawn fest

19/10/2008
NEWS STORY

While Hamilton had a relatively poor race in Japan, so too did Massa. Both drivers have had excellent races this year, but both have also had absolute bummers, races where they appeared to fall apart. It is for that reason that some are hoping/fearing Robert Kubica can upset the applecart and sneak up on the outside, though yesterday's qualifying performance certainly didn't help his chances.

Today, Hamilton, although starting from pole position, is surrounded by at least three other drivers with their own agendas, and one can take that any way one wishes. Much as it may hack him off, Raikkonen has to support Massa's title bid, having done relatively little to support his own. While Alonso will be keen to make it three wins in a row, the Spaniard has made no secret of how he feels about the title fight, and in particular his former McLaren teammate. Should Hamilton win the title, be it here or in Brazil, Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa will not be joining in the celebrations.

We have a sneaking suspicion that Hamilton is running lighter than his rivals, finding it difficult to truly justify his extraordinary pace for much of this weekend. We can only assume that after the debacle of the first corner at Fuji, the team wanted him ahead of the pack today at all costs.

Anyone who saw Heikki Kovalainen following yesterday's qualifying session will know that his position on the grid is not intentional, he was meant to be up there supporting Hamilton, but he failed, instead the Finn will now have his own problems, fending off the rest of the pack, including Vettel, Trulli, Kubica and two other drivers who need good results here today, Piquet and Bourdais.

The bottom line is that with a five-point advantage, Hamilton has the 2008 title within his grasp, he can only lose it. Therefore, it is imperative that he focuses one thing and thing alone today, not winning the race, but extending his points lead over Massa. Never mind going all-out today, if Hamilton achieves the right result and puts the title beyond the Brazilian's reach, he can save all the fancy stuff for Interlagos.

While we have been expecting rain, conditions are ideal. As they have been for most of the weekend. There was no rain during this morning's GP2 Asia race and officials claim that the expected showers will not appear this afternoon.

If true, this is good news for Ferrari, which has struggled in the wet this season, certainly compared to McLaren. It also means that while there will be many other battles throughout the field as drivers and teams focus on their title standings, they will not be up there causing upsets for the 'big guns'.

Following yesterday's qualifying session, Nick Heidfeld received a three-place penalty for impeding David Coulthard, while Mark Webber was already facing a ten-place penalty after having to change his engine following a major failure in the morning practice session. Consequently, Heidfeld starts from ninth today and Webber sixteenth.

The say that 'when the flag drops the bullshit stops', however, other than the fact that flags are no longer used to start Grands Prix, the fact is - on recent evidence - that this is precisely when the bullshit starts flying. Therefore, as we look ahead to today's all important race, in a week in which so much has been said, much of it nasty and bitter, in a week when Europe lost another race and in a week when F1 returned to the spotlight courtesy of Mr Tony Blair and the tobacco saga, lets hope for a championship fight worthy of the name. May the best man win, without the need to resort to gamesmanship, bully-boy tactics or the intervention of the dreaded stewards.

We need a hero, Bonnie Tyler sang, and while both the main contenders have had their ups and downs we have two races in which they can make amends, by giving us a hero our sport deserves, not the hero decided by the media, Bernie Ecclestone or the FIA.

As the cars make their way to the grid, the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 30 degrees. Humidity is 64 per cent. It is overcast, the sort of creamy/grey sky we witnessed during the Beijing Olympics, but warm, with the sun breaking through in parts.

The head off on the parade lap, nobody starting from the pitlane. Hamilton is on the harder compound, like most of his rivals, however, Raikkonen is an obvious exception. The options are hard (hard) and soft (medium).

Despite the current conditions, BMW informs Kubica that rain is expected twenty minutes into the race. At which point, Race Control confirms that there is a 40 per cent chance of rain.

Hamilton leads into the first corner, with Kovalainen also getting away well, unlike the Ferraris, which are both slow off the line. Further back there's an incident involving a Trulli and Bourdais, with the Italian going off.

As Hamilton leads the Ferraris, Alonso and Kovalainen are at it hammer and tongs, the Finn briefly passing the Renault. However, the Spaniard is up for the fight and re-takes fourth. Mark Webber makes a great move on Glock.

At the end of lap 1, it's Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel, Kubica, Piquet and Barrichello. Trulli pits for a new nose, however, there's plenty of other damage to the Toyota.

Out front, Hamilton is lapping almost a second quicker than Raikkonen, the Englishman setting a stunning pace. The rest of the field fairly strung out, other than Barrichello, who heads a train of six cars.

Next time around, as Hamilton extends his lead to 2.5s, Trulli returns to the pits, where he heads straight into his garage and retirement. Webber is all over Barrichello, but the Brazilian is having none of it.

Hamilton continues to push a hard pace, posting fastest lap after fastest lap. After 5 laps he is 3.1s ahead of Raikkonen. Kovalainen, despite a strong start, has fallen almost 5s behind Alonso. The Spaniard is closing to within 1.9s of Massa.

Webber passes Barrichello to take tenth, as Heidfeld is told to "put pressure on Kovalainen".

As Webber climbs all over Piquet, Glock and Rosberg are also locked in a hard struggle.

Another fastest lap for Hamilton (36.683), as he extends his lead to 4s, however, Raikkonen is maintaining a strong pace, indeed, on lap 10 he goes quickest (36.664).

Webber passes Piquet as the Renault crew informs the Brazilian that the Red Bull driver is lighter on fuel and therefore not to worry. Race Control now claims there is a 20 per cent chance of rain.

"You need to get past Glock," Rosberg is told, "we're losing time". Meanwhile, replay show Hamilton getting his rear-end a little out of shape.

As Webber pits at the end of lap 12, Rosberg passes Glock at the hairpin.

On lap 13, Hamilton posts another fastest lap, crossing the line at 36.325. Raikkonen posts 36.701, as the gap hovers around 4s. Piquet loses ground as he runs wide.

At the end of lap 14, Massa is the first to pit, a big surprise to those, including us, who thought Hamilton was running light. It's a long stop, with a lot of fuel being added to the F2008. The Brazilian rejoins in seventh, ahead of Kubica. Alonso also pitted.

Next time around Hamilton and Raikkonen pit, as Sutil stops to the side of the track in the final corner. The Finn switched to the harder tyre, while Hamilton's front wing was adjusted.

Therefore, Kovalainen leads Heidfeld, with Hamilton third ahead of Vettel, Raikkonen and Kubica.

Heidfeld pits at the end of lap 17, as Kovalainen leads Hamilton by 7.2s. Raikkonen is around 5.5s behind the Englishman, with Massa a further 5.5s down the road.

Next time around, Kovalainen pits, as does Vettel. Consequently, Hamilton re-takes the lead, with Raikkonen second ahead of Kubica, Massa and Piquet.

Barrichello, who got as high as eighth, finally pits at the end of lap 19, as Kubica (third) posts his best lap of the race (37.640).

Massa is lapping around 0.8s off the pace of the leaders, raising concerns that he's suffering as a result of running with the softer option. The Brazilian is now 14.3s behind his title rival. The Renault crew informs sixth placed Alonso that Kovalainen is going to go 6 laps longer in the middle stint. Elsewhere, Button (twelfth) pits.

As Bourdais pits, it looks likely that BMW might have put Kubica on a one-stop strategy. A brave move, but then again the German team had little option but to take a gamble.

Piquet pits at the end of lap 24, just 4 laps short of half-distance. The Brazilian rejoins in tenth.

Kubica pits at the end of lap 25, rejoining in ninth behind Coulthard, who, like Glock, Nakajima and Fisichella, has yet to stop. The Pole keeps the same tyres at the front, only changing the rears. Which means there will be another stop.

Out front, Raikkonen takes 0.3s out of Hamilton's 6.4s lead, however, Massa is 9s down on the Finn. Alonso maintains a 7s advantage over Kovalainen.

Coulthard pits at the end of lap 28, which moves Kubica up into the points. Fisichella, running seventeenth ahead of Button, also pits. Glock and Nakajima are the only driver yet to pit. The Japanese driver is all over Vettel.

On lap 30, Raikkonen leads a load of time passing Fisichella, allowing Hamilton a 7.5s 'comfort cushion'. The Finn makes his frustration quite clear to the Force India driver.

Bourdais and Coulthard get up close and personal, two drivers who have had more than there fair share of incidents this season.

Nakajima and Webber both pit at the end of lap 31, with Glock stopping next time around. All drivers have now stopped.

Therefore, after 33 laps, Hamilton leads Raikkonen by 8s, with Massa a further 7.8s down the road. Alonso is fourth, ahead of Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Kubica, Piquet, Vettel and Glock.

As the McLaren crew head for the pitlane in anticipation of Kovalainen, the Finn slows, his right-front tyre punctured. He slowly heads back to the pits losing position after position. The team struggle to remove the offending tyre, but eventually Kovalainen rejoins, having dropped to seventeenth.

Alonso pits at the end of lap 36, as Raikkonen reduces Hamilton's lead to 7.9s.

Kovalainen's problem is said to be brake related, which raises the question of whether Hamilton will need to ease off.

Massa pits at the end of lap 37, watched intently by McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh. The Brazilian, having switched to the harder tyre, rejoins in fourth. Elsewhere, Webber loses it on the 'marbles' and heads off into the Chinese countryside.

Hamilton and Raikkonen both pit at the end of lap 38, both switching to softs. Piquet also pitted. Next time around, Heidfeld pits, switching to softs. Bourdais and Rosberg also stop.

Hamilton's lead over Raikkonen is now up to 12.9s, however, all eyes are on Massa, who is now running 2.6s behind the Finn and closing in.

Kubica pits at the end of lap 40, rejoining in seventh. Barrichello also pits.

With 16 laps remaining, it's: Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Heidfeld, Vettel, Kubica, Glock, Piquet and Coulthard. That said, Vettel pits.

Just as Raikkonen appears to be tasking a little away from Hamilton, the Englishman strikes back. All the time, however, Massa closes in on his Ferrari teammate. One cannot help but feel that Raikkonen could take the fight to the McLaren driver but is having to hold back for his teammate's sake. If so it will be highly frustrating for the reigning World Champion.

Button makes his second stop at the end of lap 44, promoting teammate Barrichello to eleventh. Nakajima and Bourdais having a great scrap for twelfth. In all honesty, it's the only bit of excitement the people in the grandstands are getting in what has been a very processional race, no disrespect to Lewis.

Kovalainen is all over Webber as the two fight for fourteenth.

Massa closes to within 1.1s of Raikkonen, as Kubica closes in on Heidfeld.

On lap 50, Massa makes a stupendous move on his teammate, the Brazilian bringing the fans in the stands to their feet… even Hamilton stops and gets out of his car to applaud the move, having seen it on the giant TV screens. Ron Dennis looks on, speechless, clearly humbled.

OK, in reality, Raikkonen slowed down on the approach to the hairpin and his teammate passed him. Elsewhere, Kovalainen drives into the pits and into retirement, the third of the day.

Entering the final stages, Kubica closes to within 4.8s of his BMW teammate. Out front, Hamilton leads Massa by 14.6s.

Alonso, never one to give in, posts a personal best time of the race as he closes to within 4.3s of Raikkonen. Can't see the Finn giving in as easily as he did to Massa.

Hamilton begins his final lap 14.9s clear of his championship rival, the McLaren looking as good now as it did 55 laps earlier. We thought his pace was down to strategy, it clearly wasn't.

"Tremendous Lewis, fantastic job" says Ron Dennis over the radio, "This is what we have to take to Brazil." "Cool guys," is the response from the cockpit.

With no disrespect to Hamilton or McLaren, that was one of the most boring races we can remember, and we are delighted that such a yawn fest didn't decide the championship.

Nonetheless, Hamilton has put the misery of Japan and the resultant criticism behind him, and produced a drive worthy of a champion. He heads to Brazil with a seven-point advantage and who would really bet against him, especially in light of the failure of Ferrari and Massa to mount any sort of challenge here today.

Ferrari takes second and third, whilst extending its lead in the Constructors' Championship, however, the Italian outfit will surely rue the numerous mistakes it has made over the course of the season. The F2008 is said to be the best car out there, but one wouldn't know it on today's evidence.

Another sterling performance from Fernando Alonso, who finishes just 1.9s behind Kimi Raikkonen. Thanks to the Spaniard's sheer grit, and the French team discovering some much needed pace, the two-time World Champion holds off the BMWs, adding a further 5 points to his tally.

It all went awry for BMWE in qualifying what with Kubica's tyre problems and Heidfeld's clash with Coulthard. Despite the fact that the Pole's title challenge is now dead and buried, the Munich squad can still hold its head high, having once again confirmed itself to be the 'third power' on the grid.

A mixed day for Toyota, with Trulli's race coming to an end at the first corner. Timo Glock, on the other hand, gave another strong performance, bringing his car home in seventh, thus further consolidating fifth place for his team and moving him into the Top Ten drivers.

Nelson Piquet takes the remaining point, however, it remains to be seen if it will be enough to help him retain his seat.

Worth giving Rubens Barrichello a mention, the Brazilian giving a strong account of himself this weekend, particularly compared to his teammate. That said, rumours as to his future at Brackley suggest that his days are numbered.

A great performance from Lewis Hamilton, a truly superb drive. However, what an awfully boring race.

Is there any chance that Max might put out a further tender - especially with Disney in the F1 news this week…

Tenders invited for someone who can inject excitement into Formula One, someone who can bring back the 'wow factor', have fans sitting open-mouthed in wonder, someone who can justify them climbing out of their beds at ungodly hours.

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    Published: 19/10/2008
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