The Chinese Grand Prix, despite its importance in the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship, was sadly as uneventful as the Japanese Grand Prix was controversial.
Having put his car on pole, Lewis Hamilton drove an absolutely faultless race only giving up the lead over his two pit stops and finished over 16 seconds ahead of championship rival Felipe Massa (who was gifted second place in the closing stages by Räikkönen).
It would be easy to conclude that the Ferraris just didn’t have the necessary pace to keep up with the McLarens as Hamilton drew away easily from second placed Räikkönen after a perfect start, but a closer look at Heikki Kovalainen would make you think again. Yes, the McLarens had the edge over the Scuderia in China, but Hamilton was in a class of his own. If only he had put on such a strong display last weekend and he would have had the title wrapped up by now… Still, he once again rose to the occasion, kept a level head and drove so well that even Rob Smedley, Massa’s engineer, couldn’t help but offer his congratulations. “You can put it down to: is McLaren the fastest car, or is Lewis just the fastest driver? If you look at him compared to poor old Heikki, he completely out-classed him this weekend.”
Hamilton was regularly over a second a lap quicker than the ‘flying’ Finn, making Kovalainen look particularly average. He has no doubt had a very unlucky season which was made none the better on Sunday with a puncture, but I wonder whether McLaren is rueing the fact that they have signed him for a further two years? They don’t have the hassle of two ‘star drivers’ this year, but if Lewis does win the Championship in Brazil (he need only finish 5th with Massa winning) and McLaren fail to win the Constructors title (which is looking increasingly likely as Ferrari now have a commanding 11 point advantage), all eyes will be on Kovalainen.
As for what happened in the race? Well, all the front runners got a clean start, while Kovalainen briefly took 4th place from Alonso only to give it back later in the lap. And… well, that’s how they stayed for most of the race. Kubica sadly ended his chances of clinching the championship after an uncharacteristically poor qualifying where he struggled with the setup of his car, but drove a strong race to climb up to 6th.
Piquet also drove well and is no doubt starting to give Renault a small headache. Had they made a decision three weeks ago regarding next year, I have a suspicion they would have had no qualms about dropping the GP2 star. However, after a few spirited drives, and indeed periods of staying on the Tarmac, the team must be having second thoughts.
So off to Brazil we go. If Hamilton can keep as level a head as he did this weekend taking pole, the fastest lap and winning the race, he will be unstoppable. But let’s hope that he has ability to let the race unfold, let others get on with it and drive safely to 5th. If he doesn’t, and he once again throws away the Championship in the last race, I fear it will take a lot longer to get over than it did last year.