Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton on pole

Lewis Hamilton looks to all but clinch the World Championship by sticking his McLaren Mercedes on pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix. He is followed by the Ferraris of re-surging Kimi Raikkonen and title rival Felipe Massa. Renault's Fernando Alonso continues the team's good form and qualifies 4th.

This is how the points of interest are shaping up for the race:

1. Alonso and Renault: Alonso starts 4th and sounds confident for a strong race. It will be curious to see how much fuel Alonso is carrying as he is 6 tenths slower than Hamilton in Q3; although the Q2 difference is comparable. Nelson Piquet failed to deliver on his practice form but this is familiar starting territory for the Brazilian. So, his starting slot and car performance can easily have him in the points. With Head of Engine Track Operations, Denis Chevrier confirming Renault's performance from Fuji, prospects look very good. Maybe not a win, but Alonso over his career has had a knack of putting himself into a position to benefit from other drivers' errors.

2. Kubica. He may have ended his World Championship bid by having a poor qualifying session by starting 12th. A critical set-up change backfired. "I was struggling with the balance of the car all weekend. We made some changes before qualifying, but they had a negative effect. The car was difficult to drive and I couldn't push as I wanted. I expect a tough race because now we are not allowed to change the set-up." However, we saw Alonso all but quit on his chances in Singapore after a qualifying disaster and came back to win the race with some good fortune. Kubica will need to rely on good fortune for the race.

3. Kovalainen. Heikki starts 5th. Expect him to finish 5th or 6th. He seems happy with the performance but the race will judge. I will not except Kovalainen to take points from Ferrari this weekend. However, it is very important the Kovalainen do something drastic as the Constructor's title might slip through the fingers of McLaren.

4. Race Stewards. They have reared their heads by giving Heidfeld a 3 grid-place penalty for impeding Red Bull's David Coulthard in qualifying. It is interesting that earlier in the weekend Nick Heidfeld made comments regarding the current situation with race stewards, "the consistency (steward decisions) was a lot better last year, and it is easier than if there are just some guys who are coming to a few races. They don't have the insight compared to a guy who is always there." We will see if the stewards have an impact at the front of the grid.

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