Saturday, 18 October 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton On Pole For His Date With Destiny

Lewis Hamilton will start what may be the most important race of his young career from pole position after a completely dominant performance in today's qualifying session. Just as in Fuji last week he will have Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen for company alongside him on the front row, setting up a possible repeat of last Sunday's first corner drama. Felipe Massa will start from third place with Fernando Alonso pipping Kovalainen for fourth with another excellent showing. The other title contender Robert Kubica saw his chances all but vanish with a poor performance, meaning he will start the race tomorrow from eleventh place.

The conditions for qualifying were about as perfect as you could imagine; warm but not too hot, with no rain or even a breath of wind around the circuit. There would be no excuses for poor performances. The first session saw Lewis Hamilton continue his fine form from Friday's practice sessions by finishing in first place by a considerable margin. Of course, where it really mattered was at the other end of the field. After Webber's spectacular engine blow-out in morning practice Red Bull were hoping for a big performance from David Coulthard. It didn't come unfortunately, as he was held up a little by Nick Heidfeld on his final flying lap and failed to make it through to Q2. He will start his penultimate Grand Prix from 16th place. Nakajima, Button, Sutil and Fisichella make up the final four positions on the grid.

The second session saw Hamilton again dominate proceedings at the top of the time sheets. His first run on the option tyre saw him set the only lap of the weekend under 1:35s, and comfortably ahead of his rivals. However, the big story of Q2 was the nightmare that Robert Kubica was having. He needs a big result from this Grand Prix if he is to have any chance of upsetting the odds and winning the Championship, but he will find it hard now after he could only manage twelfth fastest in the session. He complained of understeer problems earlier in the session, and he looked completely out of sorts throughout the session. His poor performance was compounded by the fact that his team mate Heidfeld beat him comfortably for one of the first times this season. Rosberg, Barrichello, Glock and Piquet also dropped out at this stage.

Going into the final session it looked as though Hamilton was all but guaranteed a pole position place. It wasn't to be as simple as that though, as after the first set of hotlaps Hamilton was only sitting in fifth place. Although the cameras didn't pick it up Hamilton later confessed that he made a big mistake in turn eight which lost him over six tenths of a second. Kovalainen and Raikkonen were leading the way at the top; were they being run very light as part of a strategic game by their team? Raikkonen was the first of the main men to go out for his final lap, and he was setting green sectors throughout the lap. He was comfortably top by the end of his lap, and had set down a tough bench mark for the others to match. Hamilton was the only man up to the challenge, and he put together a sensational lap to take pole position by a full three tenths of a second. Massa couldn't match either his title rival or his team mate as he ended up in third place. Alonso put in a superb lap out of nowhere to take fourth place. Kovalainen was the last of the main contenders out there, but yet again he failed to live up to McLaren's expectations as a poor lap meant he could only manage fifth fastest.

So going into the race tomorrow Lewis Hamilton will feel confident with his brilliant performance, but will be surrounded by people out to spoil his party. Both Ferraris and Alonso have made no secret about their desire to see Hamilton suffer yet another disappointment, and Hamilton really needed his team mate up alongside him for support. It was another sad chapter in the huge let down that has been Heikki Kovalainen's first season at McLaren. He should have been at least on the second row if not the first, but he choked when it mattered most. With the possibility of thunderstorms for tomorrow's race, if Hamilton is to secure his first world championship it most certainly won't be easy. It could well be a classic...

Qualifying Result

1. Hamilton
2. Raikkonen
3. Massa
4. Alonso
5. Kovalainen
6. Webber (+ 10 place grid penalty)
7. Heidfeld
8. Vettel
9. Trulli
10. Bourdais
11. Piquet
12. Kubica
13. Glock
14. Barrichello
15. Rosberg
16. Coulthard
17. Nakajima
18. Button
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella

No comments: