Hamilton homes in on title – and leaves sniping rivals sulking in Shanghai
Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, putting the haunting memories of last year’s title meltdown firmly behind him, and rising above the onslaught of criticism that has dogged him since his clash with the stewards in Japan.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. That was the message that Hamilton issued to his peers after destroying them in an incident-free pole to flag victory. Dull the Chinese Grand Prix may have been, significant it most certainly was not.
As the countdown begun, it was a distinctly lonely looking Hamilton in his cockpit on pole. His chief nemeses – Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso – were queued up behind him ready to hang him out to dry at Turn 1.
But the start line nerves that compromised him into the first corner in Japan last week – triggering not only the intervention of the stewards, but also an epic, bordering on vicious, outburst of criticism from his peers – this time suppressed themselves. “I managed to get everything right on the formation lap and then a great start -probably the best we’ve had this year – which was needed,” affirmed Hamilton.
Both Ferrari drivers had opted for the softer tyres having struggled all weekend on the harder Bridgestone options. That should have gifted them an advantage over the hard tyre-shod Hamilton, but the Briton was having none of it and maintained his lead comfortably.
“I didn’t have a good start,” recalled Massa. “There is no grip on the outside and we just stayed in the same position. “We took the decision to start on the soft tyres.”
“Our car works differently to the other cars, especially compared to McLaren, and for us the hard was very difficult to drive. Soft was the only option for us in the second stint.”
And that was pretty much that. Hamilton built up a sizeable cushion over the Ferrari drivers, putting the hammer down in the middle stint, before cruising to a victory; the lack of incident and drama doing little credit to what was a phenomenal performance from the British driver under intense pressure, both on and off the track.
He even had the audacity to rub salt in the wound of his rivals: “It wasn’t tough at all, when you’re out in front you know that you have the gap, so it is just a case of keeping your head.”
“I was very consistent with very few errors and was able to produce a gap. It was pretty much smooth sailing.”
“After my second pit stop we were pretty much cruising looking after the tyres, engine and brining the car home. I got a bigger gap behind me as Kimi let Felipe by so I just had to keep it under control.”
“It wasn’t tough at all, when you’re out in front you know that you have the gap, so it is just a case of keeping your head.”
Kimi Raikkonen struggled to get anywhere near the pace of Hamilton, and Massa had no answer for the Finn, let alone Lewis.
“Lewis was a bit stronger at the beginning of the race and started to pull away around two to three tenths per lap,” explained the Brazilian, who sees his points deficit to Hamilton grow to seven ahead of the season finale in Sau Paulo.
“This made, for sure, his race more comfortable, and for us we were completely driving on the limit trying to reduce the gap, but it wasn’t possible. Unfortunately Lewis had the better car for the whole weekend.”
In only his second year in Formula One then, Hamilton finds himself once again on the brink of title glory.
“This is another step forward towards the championship: my dream and the team’s dream. The team has worked hard throughout the season. Our approach was right, the aim was to look at both the last two races and score as many points collectively.”
“I know we’ll be more competitive in Brazil than here so that’s comforting. It will be tough, Felipe will be pushing us hard, but hopefully we can pull through.”
McLaren will no doubt prefer to win both drivers’ and constructors’ championships, especially after being thrown out of the latter last year as a result of the spy scandal.
On that front they still have work to do after Ferrari’s podium lock-out, allied to an engine problem for Heikki Kovalainen leaves the Woking squad eleven points adrift of their Italian rivals.
“The drivers’ championship was not that great, but the constructors’ was very good,” confessed Massa, “I tried (to close) the drivers championship but it wasn’t possible.”