China Flashback 2007 - Hamilton blunder takes title down to the wire 17 Oct 2008
Last year in Shanghai McLarens Lewis Hamilton was poised to be become the youngest ever world champion. With a 12-point advantage over team mate Fernando Alonso and a 17-point margin over Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen, then as long as Raikkonen didnt win, all he needed to do was to finish ahead of Alonso.
But though the crown was within his grasp, Hamilton was under a great deal of pressure. His victory in Japan the previous week had come at a price, with the British driver under investigation after suggestions he drove erratically behind the safety car. There was a very real threat he could be served with a grid penalty.
In the end the stewards decided not to penalise him, but the issue was an unwanted distraction and it was Raikkonen who capitalised to set the initial pace on Friday morning, with Alonso, Felipe Massa and then Hamilton following behind. After lunch, the Ferraris and McLarens were almost inseparable, with just 0.023s splitting Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa, while Hamilton was only another two-tenths adrift. It was good day for Toyota too, with Ralf Schumacher seventh and Jarno Trulli an even stronger fifth.
Off-track, meanwhile, the paddock was abuzz with news that a consortium led by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and Dutch entrepreneur Michiel Mol had bought the Spyker team in a deal that would later see the former Jordan squad transformed into Force India
When Saturday arrived the mornings final practice session gave little clue as to the team - or driver - that would win out in qualifying. Raikkonen was again quickest, but Alonso was just 0.026s adrift, ahead of Hamilton and Massa. Schumacher (fifth) and Coulthard (sixth) continued to impress for Toyota and Red Bull respectively, while the pace of both BMW Saubers seemed greatly improved from Friday, with Robert Kubica seventh and Nick Heidfeld eighth.
In qualifying it was Hamilton who had the edge, clinching his sixth pole of the season. Raikkonen joined him on the front row, a tenth down, with Massa and fourth-placed Alonso behind. The biggest surprise of the day was Coulthard, who took a worthy fifth place, immediately ahead of Schumacher and Red Bull team mate Mark Webber. Heidfeld and Kubica were eighth and ninth respectively, while a surprised Jenson Button completed the top ten in strong form for Honda.
As race day dawned, everyone was forecasting rain and the majority believed they would soon witness a history-making Hamilton victory. And at first it seemed both predictions would come true. Rain before the start meant everyone opted for wet tyres and at first the race progressed well for pole-sitter Hamilton, as he opened up a 10-second lead over Raikkonen in the early laps.
Hamilton remained in front of the Finn following their first pit stops, while Massa and Alonso were engrossed in their own private battle further back. But following a brief shower on Lap 26, Raikkonen began to close on the back of the McLaren. As the track then started to dry, worn tyres meant Hamilton increasingly struggled for grip and the Ferrari soon eased past into the lead.
Despite his rapidly deteriorating tyres, Hamilton knew that if he was to keep the F2008 in his sights, hed have to stick to his next scheduled stop on Lap 31. It was an effort, but he managed to do it - that was until disaster struck at the pit entrance. He slid wide on his worn rubber and beached his McLaren in the gravel. Despite frantic pleas to nearby marshals to unearth his car, there was no escape and Hamilton climbed out of the cockpit to watch the rest of the race from the pits.
Victory was thus Raikkonens, the Finn leading home Alonso and Massa to keep his title chances alive. Sebastian Vettel made up for his mistake at the previous Fuji round (where he ran into the rear of Mark Webbers Red Bull under the safety car) to take a well-deserved fourth, after using his one-stop strategy to its best advantage, ahead of fifth-placed Button for Honda and Toro Rosso team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi. Heidfeld finished seventh for BMW Sauber, with the final point taken by Coulthard.
Although it had not been the triumphant finish Hamilton and his fans had hoped for, the British drivers gaffe, and Raikkonens subsequent victory, had provided all the ingredients for an epic season finale at the following round in Brazil. And with Alonso taking second, the standings were closer than ever ahead of the Interlagos race, with Hamilton on 107 points, Alonso up to 103 and Raikkonen on 100.