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Lewis Hamilton wins in China

Lewis Hamilton in China Lewis Hamilton won the penultimate Grand Prix of the season with a comfortable run from pole.

With his only possible rival, Felip Massa, second, he inched his lead to seven points with only the finale at Massa’s home track in Brazil to come.

This was a much more sensible performance by Hamilton, obviously playing it by percentage advantage now, instead of the wild and woolly driving we’ve become used to in previous outings.

In Brazil, he needs to maintain this attitude. A rush of blood to the head and a collision with another opponent leaving Massa to glide to a win or podium finish, would be more than Hamilton fans could bear.

We shall see.

Earlier
Lewis Hamilton secured pole position in today’s qualifying for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix, the penultimate of the season.

His only rival for the title, Felipe Massa, was third. Hamilton needs to beat him by six points to win the championship in Shanghai. A trip to Massa’s home territory, Brazil, for the final showdown would possibly be a spinetingler too far for the edgy Englishman.

After a disappointing first lap Hamilton’s second was immaculate as he lapped in 1m 36.203s. He led outgoing world champion, Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen for pole position by 0.342s.

“I came here in a good frame of mind,” Hamilton said. “And we’ve been competitive all weekend. I lost a lot of time on my first qualifying run, following a big oversteer moment at turn eight, but my second felt almost perfect.”

If Hamilton succeeds, it will be 50 years to the day since Mike Hawthorn became Britain’s first world champion by taking second place in the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix in Casablanca.

How they will start on the grid:

1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1min 36.303secs
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:36.645
3 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:36.889
4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:36.927
5 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:36.930
6 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:37.083
7 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:37.201
8 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.685
9 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:37.934
10 Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:38.885
11 Nelson Piquet Jr. (Bra) Renault 1:35.722
12 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:35.814
13 Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:35.937
14 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:36.079
15 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:36.210
16 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 1:36.731
17 Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 1:36.863
18 Jenson Button (Gbr) Honda 1:37.053
19 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:37.730
20 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India 1:37.739

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Alonso Criticizes Renault?

F1 Racing live has a report that, in speaking to the Spanish press, Alonso has been less than complimentary about the Renault team.

Alonso

Alonso in the Shanghai GP

AS newspaper quoted Alonso as saying: “They wanted us to finish second and third because they do not want me to take the number one to a different team.”

He said there is ‘no doubt’ that the constructors’ championship is therefore more important to Renault in 2006, and added that only ‘some’ in blue and yellow uniforms were disappointed to lose the Chinese Grand Prix to Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.

“Some others are happy,” Alonso continued, “because we went past Ferrari in the team battle. They are not helping me as much as they could.”

To me, this sounds like a journalist’s invention. It makes no sense, since Alonso would hardly encourage the team to help him by saying such things. The decision to change the front tires at the first pitstop was a joint decision between Alonso and the team and so he is as much to blame for the mistake as anyone. And that business about not taking the number one to another team is just laughable; Renault stand to gain just as much good publicity from a driver’s championship as the constructor’s and the matter of a mere number makes no difference to that.

Renault have known for a long time that Alonso will be going to McLaren at the end of the year – were all his wins in the first half of the season a mistake by the team? It is ridiculous to suggest that any team would sabotage their own efforts for the sake of a number (that you’d have trouble finding on the car anyway).

So I don’t believe the report. It’s just an unscrupulous journalist trying to stir up some controversy and sell a few more papers as a result. I just hope that the whole thing will annoy Alonso and Renault to the extent that they win at Suzuka by a huge margin.

And so far my prediction that Renault and Michelin would catch up with Ferrari development after the Monza race has proved correct. There was little to choose between the cars in the dry at Shanghai and in the wet the Renault was clearly superior. Although I see all the pundits running for cover in the Michael camp, I stand by my forecast of another Alonso championship this year.

And the entire Renault team will celebrate his victory with him without thought of which car will wear the number one in future.

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Thoughts on the Chinese Grand Prix

Luck is perhaps the most important ingredient to a champion’s success. It doesn’t matter how talented you are as a driver; without luck, you will never be champion. I have seen any number of drivers with everything they needed to be champion except luck – and none of them ever made it. Without luck, something will go wrong every time, you can guarantee it.

Michael

Michael Schumacher in China

Michael Schumacher is the luckiest driver the world has ever seen. If he is going to spin, you can bet it will be where there are no walls to hit. I have seen him spin in Monaco where it is said that any mistake will cost a driver the race; but he did it in the only place where you can get away with it and continue. Even the weather gods favor him, as we saw in China this weekend.

Had it decided to rain again, Michael would have been nowhere. But no, it chooses to hold off until the last few laps when it made no difference. Instead, it provides him with a dry line so that his Bridgestone tires can work. Watching Prost win race after race on his luck was bad enough; having to see fortune favor Michael every time has been unbearable.

I am not saying that the man is without talent – he has that in profusion. But other drivers pay the price when they make a mistake (as did Alonso when choosing to change the front tires on Sunday). Lady Luck forgives Michael such things and he’s been champion seven times as a result.

Continuing the theme of luck, it begins to look as if Jenson Button has better luck than Barrichello. On that last lap it looked as though Rubens would hold off Jenson to the end but then fate intervened in the shape of Sato’s Super Aguri. Who would have guessed that it would be the Briton to emerge from the confusion ahead of the rest? One can understand Heidfeld’s anger at being robbed in such a manner – in an instant his certain fourth spot turned into seventh.

The man with the worst luck at the moment seems to be Raikkonen, however. Yet another engine failure put an end to his very good chances of winning. In any of Michael’s teams, it was always the German’s teammate whose car let him down (just ask Barrichello) but Kimi seems to be getting it wrong. Someone should tell McLaren that the quick driver is supposed to have the reliable car.

In the end, what happens, happens. Michael won and we go to Suzuka with the two contenders tied on points and the constructor’s title still very much up for grabs. It all makes for tense and exciting racing – two races to go and two drivers locked in battle. The FIA must be rubbing their hands together in glee.

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BMW and Young Drivers

At the Friday Press Conference for the Shanghai Grand Prix, some of the team managers were in the spotlight. Amongst these was Mario Theissen of BMW Sauber and he gave some interesting insights into BMW’s policy on selecting young drivers.

Theissen

BMW Sauber’s Mario Theissen

Q: Mario, we’ve seen you use young drivers this year to remarkable effect: obviously Robert Kubica but also latterly Sebastian Vettel as well. What is BMW’s policy regarding young drivers? You have a staircase of talent with Formula BMW, tell us your policy.

Mario THEISSEN: Well, the general policy with our entire Formula One project is to groom the team in-house rather than take on people from the outside. Obviously, if you want to ramp up (your personnel) by 150 people in one and a half years you have to take on people from the outside, but wherever possible, we take young people on the engineering side as well as on the driving side and develop them on our own. On the drivers’ side, there is a particular resource with Formula BMW. Guys go there at the age of 15 or 16 so we have quite a close relationship, get a very good idea of what they are capable of, and then we have them on our screen as they go up through the other formulae, so I think it’s quite a successful approach to watch young drivers and to evaluate them. That led us to taking on Sebastian Vettel which certainly is extraordinary for a 19-year old guy. Generally, I’m not proposing to take on younger and younger drivers into Formula One but in the case of Sebastian, we thought he’s there, he’s ready to take the job and apparently he’s proved that. If you are successful doing so, I think it’s the best approach you can take. You have to be careful to pick the right guys.

It is true that, in both Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel, BMW seem to have chosen two exceptionally talented new drivers. Remembering that Michael Schumacher first came to fame through the Mercedes program for young drivers in the sportscar formula, the wisdom of F1 constructors being involved in lesser formulae is apparent.

This is just a part of my increasing respect for BMW’s efforts in F1. They look like a team that is going places. Their professionalism and design strength is very apparent, they have set realistic goals (and do not become over-excited when they exceed those goals) and their car is the best-looking on the grid (well, it’s important to me – why do you think I supported Minardi from very early on?).

Much of this must be due to Theissen’s organizational skills. I particularly like his realism in admitting quite openly that one of their two podium finishes this year had a lot of luck involved. He is being cautious about the team’s chances in China, too, pointing out that it is a very different type of track from Monza, where they did so well. It’s such a sensible attitude – if they do particularly well, he can give a sly wink as if to say, “Well, you didn’t expect me to tell you we had something special awaiting, did you?” And, if the cars finish out of the points, he can always say that he told us so.

Elsewhere, Friday practice in Shanghai proved very little, as usual. The test drivers were quick, Alex Wurz (Williams) and Sebastian Vettel battling it out for quickest time. Ferrari look to be in a strong position with Renault holding their cards close to their chests. We shall see the true position tomorrow in the qualifying sessions.

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