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Sunday race preview - who, or what, can stop Hamilton? 07 Oct 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes 
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota in Parc ferme
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107 
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007 Sakon Yamamoto (JPN) Spyker and Adrian Sutil (GER) Spyker
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007

Lewis Hamilton was very pleased with his sixth pole position of the season for McLaren, especially as he had been uncertain which tyre offered the best options for Q3. In the end he went with the softer tyre, gave himself a decent cushion over his rivals by being the first to pit prior to his final run, and made the best use of that to lap in 1m 35.908s.

It is likely that he is running lighter than team mate Fernando Alonso, who was only fourth on 1m 36.576s, and that will stand him in good stead if, as expected, the imminence of Typhoon Krosa brings rain this afternoon as he will be able to break clear and leave rivals in his spray.

Both Ferrari drivers were quite happy with their cars, however, and they are usually very strong in race trim on the occasions when they lose out to the McLarens in qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen (second, on 1m 36.044s) was perfectly happy, while Felipe Massa (third, on 1m 36.221s) admitted that he lost the back end of his car being too aggressive on his final run but is otherwise quite content too.

Red Bull’s recent upswing in performance continued as David Coulthard built on his Fuji performance with fifth place (1m 37.619s) and Mark Webber was seventh (1m 38.153s). The Scot admitted to surprise at his speed, and his best grid position in some time, while the Australian felt that the overall team performance boosted their chances of catching Williams for fourth place in the constructors’ championship.

In contrast to most other teams, whose cars went two by two, Toyota had one happy driver (Ralf Schumacher, sixth on 1m 38.013s) and one unhappy one (Jarno Trulli, 13th on 1m 36.959s). The German found grip and balance on his TF107, the Italian did not. He was so disillusioned with his car’s behaviour that he is considering switching to the T-car and starting from the pit lane.

There was an air of despondency at BMW Sauber, with Nick Heidfeld only eighth (1m 38.455s) and Robert Kubica ninth (1m 38.472s). The German was happy with his car in Q2 when he was sixth, but felt that the balance deteriorated with the race fuel load. Kubica echoed his sentiments.

Jenson Button was another to be surprised by the performance of his car, after qualifying 10th on 1m 39.285s, and spoke of Honda ‘over-achieving’ with the RA107. Rubens Barrichello (17th, on 1m 37.251s) was the first to lose out in Q1, and did not quite share his team mate’s delight.

Eleventh and 12th places on the grid was a major boost for Toro Rosso, courtesy of Tonio Liuzzi (1m 36.862s) and Sebastian Vettel (1m 36.891s). The Italian was only bumped from Q3 by Jenson Button’s final lap, and blamed some understeer which took the edge off his STR02 on his last run. Vettel said he was surprised by his car’s pace.

When you consider Renault’s recent performances in China, 14th and 18th positions on the grid counted as little less than a disaster for the ‘Regie’. The team had been chasing a handling problem all weekend, and Heikki Kovalainen (1m 36.991s) slid off the road pushing too hard in Turn 13 on his final run, and then again trying to make up for that in Turn 16. Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 37.290s), meanwhile, grained his set of softer tyres and then went off, also in Turn 16.

Once again Anthony Davidson was Super Aguri’s lead qualifier, in 15th place with 1m 37.247s. He was happy with his car’s balance and felt that the grip improved the more rubber went down. Takuma Sato (1m 38.218s), however, was so unhappy with his SA07 in the morning that he asked his engineers for a radical change of set-up for qualifying. The result was the same: no grip, and only 20th place on the grid.

If Renault were agonising over their lack of grip, at Williams the mood was bleak. No matter what they tried with tyre pressures and weight distribution, they could generate the right temperatures but no grip on the softer tyre. Nico Rosberg was 16th on 1m 37.483s, and Alex Wurz 19th on 1m 37.456s.

Finally, Spyker did not expect too much here. Adrian Sutil was 21st on 1m 38.668s, which he figured was pretty much everything a car short of straight-line speed had to offer. Sakon Yamamoto’s early promise seemed to have evaporated along with his car’s balance, and had to settle for 22nd place on 1m 39.336s.

So, there are some interesting faces in unusual places, and a very strong chance that the weather will render the Chinese Grand Prix a lottery just as it did in Fuji. Lewis Hamilton will start exactly where he wanted to, but it remains to be seen whether he will finish where he needs to in order to wrap up the title with a race to spare.

David Tremayne