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F1

13 Apr 2018

Classic Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton fluffs his lines as the Iceman stays cool

Classic Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton fluffs his lines as the
Iceman stays cool

We go back to 2007, when a three-way title scrap gripped Formula 1 fans during the penultimate round of the season.

(Photo credit: Tim Wang)

Background

After 15 of 17 rounds in the 2007 season, three drivers had a shot at the World Drivers' Championship. Rookie Lewis Hamilton had taken the Grand Prix world by storm when he joined McLaren for this season and sensationally led the driver's standings by 12 points from his teammate, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was going for a third consecutive F1 crown in a row but needed a miracle to keep his title. The situation was similar for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, requiring an overhaul of 17 points with only 20 available. 

After Hamilton's incredible win in Japan the week before, the title was all but sealed but the Brit still required nine points from two rounds to be sure. He got off to the perfect start, claiming pole position, and with the track damp (conditions he relishes) at the start of the race, everything was going Lewis' way.

Raikkonen joined Hamilton on the front row, running him close in Q3. Felipe Massa, Raikkonen's teammate, was third, a further two tenths down and Alonso was fourth. The most impressive performance in qualifying was probably that of David Coulthard, the Red Bull man claiming a fifth place berth on the starting grid.

Calm before the storm

The field got through the first few corners successfully, with very little contact. The front four remained in formation while Italian youngster, Vitantonio Liuzzi, gunned his Toro Rosso through Turn One, gaining three positions by the close of the lap. 

Mechanical issues aren't too common in Shanghai but after just 11 Laps, Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri dropped out, his brakes screaming no more. That preceded a string of retirements beginning with Adrian Sutil, who spun his Spyker on Lap 25. Next up was Toyota's Ralf Schumacher, who also span out in the slippery conditions.

The track continued to dry and the switch from intermediate to slick tyres seemed imminent. However, unlike the current Pirelli tyres, the Bridgestone intermediates could run with less grooves as they wore, potentially becoming slicks - illegal at the time. 

Drivers were all over the place, running off the track at almost every turn as they continued on shredded intermediates - something had to give. Hamilton, still leading, could only see the road ahead.

Title in tatters

Lap 31 of 56 and past the halfway point. Lewis Hamilton ran wide, delaminating his tyres and handing the lead to Raikkonen. The Brit lost further time on his way back to the pits, and things went from bad to worse when Hamilton slid into the gravel at the end of the pit lane. Momentum was lost and with only three-wheels on his wagon, he was caught in a flytrap. Ron Dennis had his head in his hands and millions of viewers, up early in the UK, couldn't believe it as their man bowed out in the strangest fashion. There's no chance of a repeat from a more experienced Lewis this weekend. 

Hamilton's retirement triggered a rush to the pits for dry tyres. When everything shook out, Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber inherited the lead, the Swiss team boxing the young pole before the leaders. However, he too would suffer back luck, Sauber denied their first victory in the pinnacle of motor sport as Kubica's hydraulics ceased to operate. The Iceman regained the lead, but it wasn't all bad news for McLaren, as Ferrari's 1-2 was broken up by Alonso, who passed Massa during the stops. 

The Status quo was maintained until the end as the front three stretched their legs, the pace of their cars too much for fourth down. Alonso fell back from Raikkonen and Massa had a similar pace deficit to Alonso, in contrast to qualifying. In the closing stages, Jenson Button was passed by another rookie who would later enjoy much success, Sebastian Vettel (then driving for Toro Rosso). The Brit had to settle for fifth in his dog of a Honda. 

From then on, everybody was well over a minute behind the leading trio. Liuzzi in the second Toro Rosso converted his good start to a respectable sixth place, his best finish in the top-tier of racing. Nick "Quick" Heidfeld didn't live up to his nickname, finishing a disappointing seventh in the BMW, while the final point was awarded to David Coulthard, the Scot ever-reliable in his Red Bull.

Aftermath

Not the most exciting race. However, its significance in the tale of 2007 and its impact for the fans cannot be overstated, as Hamilton wouldn't become the first rookie Formula 1 champion. In the final race in Brazil, he suffered mechanical issues and finished a disappointing seventh. A cruel way to end what had been a miraculous debut season, the likes of which we've rarely seen in the illustrious history of the Formula One. The British driver would make amends a year later, doing just enough in Brazil to to secure his first world championship. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first, and to date, only championship in the sport - something he could barely have imagined after Japan. 

Could Hamilton have done better in the race?  Share your opinion in the comments below.