Raikkonen wins in China to take title down to the wire 07 Oct 2007
Lewis Hamilton began the day with a 12-point lead - and ended it with a trip into the gravel, a premature exit and only four points in hand over Fernando Alonso and seven over Kimi Raikkonen. The Chinese Grand Prix was an unmitigated disaster for the Englishman - and, perhaps, for his championship hopes.
The only thing that could have been worse for Hamilton was if McLaren team mate Alonso had won. He didnt. That honour went to Raikkonen after a superb drive for Ferrari in changing conditions.
Alonso was a strong second, and Ferraris Felipe Massa a charging third, which sets up a three-way fight for the title in Brazil in a fortnight. Hamilton has 107 points, but Alonso is now up to 103 and Raikkonen 100. Not since 1986, when outsider Alain Prost beat favourites Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, have three drivers fought it out to the last round.
The race began well for Hamilton. Rain before the start obliged everyone to opt for Bridgestones standard wet-weather tyres, and with aplomb the polesitter opened up a 10-second lead by the time he made his first scheduled pit stop on lap 15. That handed Raikkonen the lead, which he maintained until his own stop on lap 19. Hamilton, however, was pushing hard and retook the lead as the Finn rejoined. Further back, Massa and Alonso were locked in battle, but not in a position to challenge. At this stage, all four front runners kept their original tyres through their stops.
The expected rain held off, but eventually some fell around the 26-lap mark, and suddenly Raikkonen was taking chunks out of Hamiltons 4.6s lead. Through lap 28 they were side-by-side more often than not, and when the McLaren finally slid wide in one corner the Ferrari driver pounced and immediately opened up a big lead. Hamilton had spoken the previous day of the Ferraris characteristic of being kinder to its tyres, and that proved crucial. He struggled on, fighting for grip everywhere, hanging on for his scheduled second stop on lap 31. When it came, it was the prelude to disaster. As he came into the pits, Hamilton slid wide on the entry left-hander and, agonisingly slowly, went into the gravel bed. There was no escape. His race was over, and suddenly Raikkonen and Alonso were thrown their crucial lifeline.
Now it was a fight between Alonso and the two Ferraris, but it was a stalemate situation that saw the Raikkonen-Alonso-Massa order maintained to the end.
Fourth place fell to Sebastian Vettel, who made up for his Fuji gaffe. He got a little bit lucky as his single-stop strategy worked well as far as the timing of the change in weather conditions was concerned, but this was a fine performance nonetheless. Thus Toro Rosso got their first official points of the season, and a strong drive from Vettels team mate Tonio Liuzzi, who early on ran fourth on merit, saw the two-stopping Italian finish sixth. Unfortunately for him, his strategy didnt work so well when the conditions changed, and he struggled with tyre graining all through the race.
Between them, Jenson Button had his best race of the season with a strong run for Honda that at one stage saw him setting fastest laps after switching to the softer-compound-dry weather tyres at the crucial stage.
Behind Liuzzi, Nick Heidfeld took seventh place after losing out when conditions changed, and he was less than a second behind the Toro Rosso. Team mate Robert Kubica was actually leading the race, and a contender for victory after Raikkonen and Alonso made their final stops, when his BMW Sauber rolled to a halt with its fourth hydraulic failure of the weekend.
Thus the final point fell to Red Bulls David Coulthard, who fended off Heikki Kovalainens Renault all the way to the flag. Behind them, Mark Webber did likewise with Renaults Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Red Bull.
Alexander Wurz was 12th for Williams, a lap down, in a race that saw him see-saw up and down the order as the first man to switch to soft dries. At one stage he set fastest lap. He headed home Toyotas Jarno Trulli, Super Aguris Takuma Sato, and Hondas Rubens Barrichello, all a lap down, then Nico Rosberg two laps down in the Williams and Spykers Sakon Yamamoto three laps in arrears.
Besides Kubica and Hamilton, the retirements included Toyotas Ralf Schumacher, who clashed with Liuzzi after two separate spins, Adrian Sutil who crashed his Spyker in the final corner, and Anthony Davidson who a suffered mechanical problem on his Super Aguri.
If this was a Hollywood script, there could be no better scenario for the world championship finale, as Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen have it all to play for in Interlagos in two weeks time.