Chinese GP: Hamilton retires. Raikkonen wins and keeps the title battle still open 

Written by David on October 07th, 2007 at 10:01 amLast Update: October 07th, 2007 at 10:01 am

Lewis Hamilton on gravel Shanghai 2007Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso kept the World Championship battle alive by finishing 1st and 2nd in the Chinese Grand Prix, while Lewis Hamilton retired after going off the road in the pit entry. The result closes Alonso to within 4 points of Hamilton going into the final round, with Raikkonen a further 3 points adrift.

Hamilton dominated the wet opening stages, but stayed out too long on extremely worn intermediates tyres, and ran wide into the gravel in the pitlane entry when he finally tried to make a stop. The McLaren became beached in the gravel and the championship leader was out of the race. Until then, Hamilton had looked on course to clinch the championship in China. Repeated showers in the build-up to the start and during the opening laps meant the whole field started on Bridgestone’s ‘intermediate’ wet, and Hamilton was able to pull out a comfortable lead in the conditions – lapping as fast as one second per lap quicker than the rest of the field.

Raikkonen held an increasingly distant second, while Alonso went around the outside of Massa at the first corner only for the Ferrari to dive back in front further around the opening lap. With Massa unable to match the leaders’ pace, Alonso fell 17 seconds behind his title rival in the first stint. Hamilton had the lightest fuel load of the leaders and came in on lap 15. Raikkonen ran four laps further, allowing him to narrow Hamilton’s lead from nine to four seconds by the time he rejoined after his stop. Although the rain had stopped by this time, the track was still sufficiently slippery to encourage the leaders to stick with their worn intermediates. Within six laps the midfield runners were beginning to experiment successfully with dry weather tyres, but with another shower forecast, the top teams were unwilling to risk a premature tyre change.

As Hamilton began to suffer badly with tire wear, Raikkonen closed right in on the leader. The McLaren was sliding around wildly and lapping 10 seconds slower than it had earlier on. After rebuffing several of Raikkonen’s passing attempts, Hamilton eventually ran wide at Turn 8 on lap 28, allowing the Ferrari through. Raikkonen then pulled away by up to six seconds per lap as Hamilton struggled, and Alonso, who finally passed Massa at the hairpin on lap 26, closed in on his title rival at an even faster rate.

With the anticipated shower passing within a couple of laps, Hamilton finally decided to pit on lap 31, but with his rear tyres now virtually down to canvas, he slithered wide at the bend in the pit entry and ran into the gravel at low speed. He could not find enough traction to get out, and despite urging the marshals to assist him, the championship leader had to give up and retire from a Formula One race for the first time. The two leaders then pitted for dry tires on the next lap, with Alonso only just getting out ahead of Massa, who had made the switch immediately after losing third to the McLaren.

All three were now behind BMW’s Robert Kubica, who had taken dry tyres at his lap 25 pitstop and then gained massively as Hamilton and Raikkonen’s pace slowed. He was leading Raikkonen by three seconds, but pulled off and retired with a mechanical problem just two laps after hitting the front. Alonso initially started catching Raikkonen, gaining by up to 0.8 seconds per lap. But the Ferrari driver, who was running on soft dry tires, unlike Alonso, stabilised the gap at around eight seconds and had a straightforward drive to victory.

Sebastian Vettel also timed his tire change perfectly to rise to fourth place, making up for his Fuji disaster with Toro Rosso’s best ever finish. His teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi charged to 6 in the wet early on, but his two-stop strategy cost him ground. He eventually took sixth place. Jenson Button lost a lot of ground in the wet early on, but also flew on the slippery track after taking on dry tyres. He ran fourth and was catching the leaders for some time, but unlike Vettel he could not stretch his fuel load to the end and had to make an additional pitstop, dropping him to fifth. Nick Heidfeld stayed out too long on dry tires and could only manage seventh.

Red Bull lost out in the pitstops, limiting David Coulthard to eighth place. He resisted Heikki Kovalainen in the final laps as the Renault picked up speed after struggling in the wet. Mark Webber had to make three stops after changing from dries back to intermediates in the brief shower and ended up 10th. Ralf Schumacher starred in the early laps by recovering back into the top ten after a first corner spin. But he was delayed again by a tangle with Vettel, and then spun out for good at the final corner.

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