As it happened: Raceday in Shanghai
By Geoff Creighton and Emlyn Hughes
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
||CHINESE GRAND PRIX
| CURRENT WEATHER
||28°C / 82°F
|Emlyn Hughes and Geoff Creighton are autosport.com's live commentary team. The dynamic duo have developed an inimitable style and a reputation for fast, accurate and insightful commentary. With unrivaled access to events unfolding at the circuit, they bring you the very latest, as it happens.
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Today we will be bringing you updates and news from the circuit in the build-up to the race, a look back at the qualifying hour, analysis of the key players in today's event, along with live text commentary of the race itself.
The burning question of the day is very straightforward. Will Lewis Hamilton become the 2008 FIA Formula One world champion today, or will Felipe Massa or even Robert Kubica score big points so that the championship is decided in Brazil next month?
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The latest weather predictions are still calling for some light sprinkles of rain later this afternoon, following a progressive build up of cloud cover.
The maximum air temperature later today will reach 26 degrees Celsius, but track temperatures are expected to remain cool due to the lack of direct sunshine.
The day started with the third and final practice session, giving the teams and drivers one last chance to set their cars up for the race. As usual, the top teams continued to concentrate on race simulation work, making sure everything is set correctly for the long runs, while further down the pecking order some spent time trying short runs, optimising their pace ahead of the all-important qualifying session.
Nick Heidfeld topped the list for BMW, setting a time of 1:36.061, with Lewis Hamilton second and Robert Kubica third in the other BMW Sauber. Ferrari appeared to spend the whole session running with plenty of fuel in the tank - Felipe Massa was 12th with teammate Raikkonen 13th.
The major drama in an otherwise normal morning practice involved Mark Webber, whose Renault engine in the Red Bull blew up spectacularly at top speed approaching the braking zone for the tight turn 14 hairpin. The Australian was forced to change the powerplant and faced a ten-place grid penalty, to be taken after the conclusion of qualifying.
Heidfeld fastest in final China practice
Track conditions would turn out to be slightly better in the morning practice than in qualifying later in the afternoon - just as it was on Friday. This was demonstrated by Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kazuki Nakajima and David Coulthard, who all posted quicker times in the morning than during the qualifying hour. Needless to say, all five drivers failed to make it through the first period of qualifying.
Coulthard had the most to say about his demise in the first portion, as it quickly transpired that the Scot had been impeded by Nick Heidfeld during the final moments of the session. Coulthard failed to make the cut by just under one tenth of a second as a result.
Coulthard slams 'unsportsmanlike' Heidfeld
The qualifying story continued into the second portion, with the remaining 15 drivers going for the top ten positions. Robert Kubica was the big name to fall, only managing 12th fastest. The title outsider's chances have been ruined this weekend by an ill-handling BMW Sauber that he just can't get a neutral balance with. Also out was Nelson Piquet - who, until that point had driven superbly all weekend. Timo Glock in the Toyota joined the second group to be eliminated along with Rubens Barrichello who did an amazing job just to make it out of Q1 by the skin of his teeth and Nico Rosberg, who said on Thursday that the Shanghai International Circuit would be the worst track of the season for his Williams team.
That left the top ten drivers to fight it out for the front of the grid - with championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa going head to head. As it turned out neither of them were provisionally fastest after the first of runs - it was Heikki Kovalainen who put his McLaren at the top of the tree after a strong first effort, with the Ferraris in chase and Lewis Hamilton only fifth after a mistake at turn eight when he got oversteer and ran out onto the marbles, compromising the rest of the lap.
It would all turn around, however, on the final runs of the shootout as Hamilton broke the beam with a 1:36.303 that knocked Kimi Raikkonen - who had just taken the top position - down to second place. Massa was next up, posting the third fastest time. Fernando Alonso continued the Renault resurgence with another fine fourth place, which left Heikki Kovalainen to complete his lap. The Finn, looking to qualify at the front in order to give support to Hamilton, stunned everyone with a poor 1:36.930 for fifth.
Hamilton grabs crucial pole in China
Mark Webber was next up in sixth, going for a high qualifying position following his engine change. The determined Aussie will start 16th today following his ten-place demotion. Seventh on the time sheets was Nick Heidfeld, but following a very late stewards investigation the German was deemed to have been at fault in the earlier incident with David Coulthard and was subsequently handed a three-place penalty on the grid, dropping him down to ninth.
Heidfeld gets three-place grid penalty
It is the inaugural season for the Asia Cup series of Vantage N24 racers based on the European-spec Aston Vantage and built to FIA GT4 regulations.
This morning also saw the penultimate round of the BMW Pacific series with Ross Jamison for Team Meritus on course for the championship title.
The track temperature has been matching the air temperature at 26 Celsius.
Saturday's race had a dramatic conclusion when Roldan Rodriguez took the win after Kamui Kobayashi spun from the lead at turn two.
Rodriguez wins as Kobayashi spins
The points leader also had the best grid slot one week ago at the Fuji Speedway, but that race didn't quite go to plan after a poor launch off the line, and Lewis came away from Japan without increasing his points total.
After the dramatic opening laps of the last Grand Prix, the start of today's race, with the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa surrounding him on the grid, was never far from his thoughts on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a fantastic lap," said Hamilton. "After watching it we could have gone even heavier (on fuel) but it's not really a worry, as long as we get a good start, which will be the key tomorrow.
"We're definitely making better starts than we were last weekend and it's something we've tried to make sure we correct. For sure, Ferrari, they seem to have the better starts of everyone at the moment but hopefully we'll be able to keep up at least - try to match it.
"I've had to deal with both Ferraris many times this year so it's nothing new, we've just got to focus on our job, my job, and forget about the rest. We just need to get good points tomorrow. We're still in the lead and that's what's most important."
Saturday's qualifying wasn't perfect for the championship leader, who could theoretically clinch the title in China this afternoon. He was forced to make an additional run in the second segment of qualifying after his initial time on the harder tyre fell down the order, with other runs being posted on softer rubber. He also explained a mistake on his first attempt at a lap in the decisive final ten minutes.
"It wasn't all plain sailing," Lewis said. "Q1 was good, Q2 was okay - I usually like to do just one lap but everyone went out on the option (softer tyre), which was quicker, so I had to do that also, which was no problem. And then in the Q3, my first lap - it's very hard when you go out and you, first of all you have no fuel then you have loads of fuel (in Q3) in the car and it's a big difference. I had a big wide moment but I corrected it on the last lap, which was a really good lap. I was very happy with it.
"I lost eight tenths or something on the first run (in Q3). But that was because I went wide, which put me wide for turn nine and ten so it was just a shambles of a lap but I just had to approach it, just keep driving the way you've been driving all weekend and it won't be a problem - and it wasn't."
Asked about the possibility of taking the title in China, Hamilton said: "We need to take it one race at a time. We have two races left. It's not all down to tomorrow - it's collectively both races so we have to try to do a good job in both. It's an interesting situation to be in, but it's no different to the last 15 years of my life. The fact is I've always been competitive, I've always been challenging for wins and I've always been in the same situation."
Porsche Carrera Cup Asia are the next and final support race runners of a packed timetable of racing at the Shangahi International circuit.
It is the penultimate race of their season as they tackle 12 laps of the circuit. The series, which also joined Formula One in Malaysia and Singapore, will conclude in support of the Macau Grand Prix next month.
The risk of light rain showers is currently reducing, with the improving conditions suggesting that the circuit is avoiding the worst of today's weather, at least for the moment.
The air and track temperatures are on the rise currently, with the ambient topping everyone's projections at 28 degrees Celsius, and a track temperature of 34 degrees.
The Pole lies 12 points off the lead with 20 points up for grabs in the remaining two races, but has been plagued by set-up issues with his BMW Sauber F1.08 all weekend.
Instability under braking at the rear of the car, caused by wayward suspension settings, and traction problems on corner exit have given Kubica a headache, with no cure in sight once the cars entered parc ferme conditions at the start of the qualifying session.
Kubica will start 11th on the grid for today's race, following Mark Webber's engine penalty, having done all he could to hustle the BMW round the 3.387 mile Shanghai International Circuit. The result and handling issues have left him praying for rain to equalise the field.
"I think rain will help me a bit. At least it will mix the cars a bit, and it could be that there is something going on more than in a dry race. Looking at the balance (on my car), looking at the position I am starting from, of course rain will be better.
“I'm struggling, really struggling with the balance, that's all. While the game is on and until we have no chance we have to try, and that is what we will try to do.”
There is no doubt that Kubica will continue to fight on as hard as he can, but the likelihood is he will be out of the championship hunt in a few hours' time. His consistency, attacking driving and of course the victory in Canada, a year after his terrible crash there, have added greatly to the 2008 season.
Robert went on to speak about his thoughts on the race.
“It will be a difficult race," he said. "In this situation I hope it will rain ... you never know, not the best situation, not the best place, but still we have to minimise the negative affect on this weekend and try our best. The worst thing is that I don't feel well with the car, struggling to drive, and overall I cannot push as I would like, and for tomorrow we cannot work on it so it will be quite difficult.”
The parade sets off in front of the main grandstand, with the spectators cheering enthusiastically.
The show is on a slightly smaller scale to the ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, but it is spectacular nonetheless with dancers in bright pink fairy outfits, surrounded by others in light-blue cartoon character suits.
"It's a good result but not perfect," Kimi said. "It's getting better all the time, that's the main thing. We tried many different things this weekend and we found quite a good car in the end. We're definitely getting something out from our hard work.
"The car was more balanced today. We have been having some issues in certain places all weekend and now we could more or less fix them so it was okay.
"The difference is three tenths (to pole) so it is quite big but it's hard to say from just the laptime, I mean you can always improve but three tenths is quite a lot. We'll see how much fuel everybody has tomorrow and then go from there."
The start will present Raikkonen with another opportunity to put pressure on Lewis Hamilton as the Finn tries his best to help Felipe Massa's title challenge. He launched brilliantly from the grid seven days ago, and was set to lead the race before Hamilton made his tyre-smoking bid to win back his place following a poor start from the pole-sitting McLaren.
"I'm not on the clean side so I don't know how much difference does it make here but hopefully we can have a good start and try to challenge for first place and go from there," he said. "It's going to be a long race, the weather can change from what I heard, so we just keep pushing and see where we end up."
Ferrari also impressed with their speed on the long straight in Japan and Kimi was asked if he thought the advantage would continue for the straight at Shanghai, which comes after a long, sweeping corner.
"It seems to be quite hard to get a good exit there (turn 13, before the straight)," he said. "You get a lot of wheelspin so, I mean we are maybe a little bit faster on the straight but it is always hard to follow close enough and try to overtake. We'll see what we can do."
The cultural singing and dancing display continues on the grid as we move to within an hour of the start.
Massa has spent time throughout the weekend battling against understeer with the F2008, and reviewing his final effort in qualifying from an on-board perspective, traces of that are still apparent in the Ferrari's handling.
Following his qualifying effort, the Brazilian spoke to a crowded media scrum in the paddock.
"It could have been a couple of tenths better, but not enough," said Massa. "I didn't have a good lap - the balance was different compared to Q2. Q2 was so easy to make the lap, and Q3 was just ... impossible. I think something happens when we put fuel in the car and it changed a little bit.
"I think today it was impossible to be P1, maybe P2 was maybe a small possibility, but not P1."
Massa must put in the drive of his life today - something that is not beyond the realms of possibility. Last week in Fuji, his pace in the laps before his final pitstop was nothing short of outstanding and, providing he can run a lap or two longer on fuel than his rival Lewis Hamilton, he has an opportunity to reduce the Briton's five-point lead in the title race.
Felipe went on to talk about the race and his objectives.
"On the race pace I don't think we need to be so worried," he said. "It was more worrying to find a good lap on the new tyres. I need to think about myself, and doing the best race possible. For sure the idea is always to be in front of the competitors.
"The feeling is always the same: trying to be as strong as possible in the race. I think that's the most important thing, which I think now, and for sure the race position is not fantastic, but we are not tenth anyway - we are third and we're still having the possibility to fight. We just need to think on that.
"The first corner is not so risky I think. Maybe the second corner is a little bit more tricky, but for sure it is not a difficult track in terms of the first corner.
"For sure it is always better to be in the front, especially when you see that Lewis is there. Unfortunately today it was not possible to be in the front - they showed a better performance than us, but it doesn't mean that tomorrow things can't change. I think we need to believe that, and we need to believe that we can be strong in the race."
They will make their reconaissance laps round to the grid, checking over the systems and performing radio checks with the pitwall as they come round.
Massa is already in his car, and looking ready to go out soon.
Both Williams drivers practice a start at the end of the pitlane.
Heikki Kovalainen has a damp towel draped over his neck to keep cool, as he talks strategy with Mark Slade.
The pack form up on the starting grid behind them.
We await the start of this important race ...
Felipe Massa continues in third and has dropped to 5.4 seconds behind the leader.
We see the move now and Sutil made an error, running wide at turn 14 handing the Frenchman the position.
Ahead of them Sebastian Vettel runs seventh with Robert Kubica maintaining eighth place.
Replays show a sizable moment of oversteer for Hamilton in turn two as he continues to lead on the harder tyre.
Fernando Alonso is fourth with Kovalainen fifth followed by Heidfeld, Glock and Kubica.
Bourdais has not managed to get past the Red Bull Renault and they remain in 14th and 15th places.
Bourdais forces the mistake out of Coulthard and the Frenchman takes over 14th position at turn one.
Webber is in for the second time today, moving on to the softer tyres. Nakajima is in for his one and only stop, having run for 31 laps on his first stint.
Glock rejoins the race.
Meanwhile Bourdais is flying in the high 1:37s.
He pits the Ferrari ...
Rosberg pits as well. Bourdais leaves the pits and maintains track position over the German.
Ahead of Glock is Robert Kubica who rejoined the race in seventh, with Nick Heidfeld further up the road in sixth place.
The gap between the pair is 1.9 seconds.
Just ahead of this battle is Sebastien Bourdais, who is on the gearbox of the one-stopping Kazuki Nakajima. They are fighting over 12th.
Kovalainen is out of the race, and was looking unlikely to score this afternoon.
Kimi Raikkonen is third after handing his place to his teammate a couple of laps ago.
Kazuki Najaima is 12th and still has Sebastien Bourdais close behind in 13th. Mark Webber is a second behind that pair in 14th.
Jarno Trulli retired early in the race after side to side contact at turn one with Sebastien Bourdais.
Adrian Sutil pulled off the track with a technical problem in the Force India while running in 17th.
Heikki Kovalainen was down the field in 15th place, and retired in the pits in the McLaren, with no chance of scoring points at the time.
Bouncing back from disaster in Japan, he dominated the race weekend with pole position, fastest lap and a commanding fifth race win of the season - taking a big step forward in his championship challenge.
Hamilton goes to the title decider in Brazil with a seven point advantage over Felipe Massa in the Ferrari.
Robert Kubica is now out of the championship campaign.
Kubica has driven well today in an ill-handling car, hauling himself well into the points, but the title chance is lost now, despite a very good drive.
The championship is all set up for a two-way fight at the Brazilian Grand Prix, with Hamilton heading to Sao Paulo with a seven point advantage over Felipe Massa.
Hamilton nears title with dominant win
"The car is very quick, there is no real opportunity to improve anybody's car between now and Brazil, the cars go straight there, so we just have to hope that we can do the job. It's very challenging for Ferraris to beat Lewis because we can afford to come third. To finish in anywhere in this race you have to finish, so the target is to finish and be disciplined."
Ron Dennis speaking to German broadcaster Premiere
BMW fall to 10 points behind McLaren with Renault now secure in fourth after a string of good results in recent weeks.
"We (Massa) had a problem in the first laps of the second stint on the soft tyre where the front tyre grains and I think Kimi had the same problem and it's not possible to do the lap times in the end. You know, there's a long corner coming on to the back straight and he (Raikkonen) had a lot of understeer there and Felipe was able to get in the slip-stream.
"Absolutely no team orders, no, no ... He passed him fair and square on the track."
Rob Smedley, Ferrari, speaking to German broadcaster Premiere
A processional 56 laps at the front got underway with Hamilton getting a good start - just when he needed it most - to lead into the first corner ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
Behind the front runners there was action as Sebastien Bourdais and Jarno Trulli argued over the same piece of road entering turn one. Bourdais was on the inside and claimed the corner. The pair made contact and Trulli was tipped into a spin, damaging his Toyota TF108.
The action in the race pretty much ended there and then. Up front the main players were all on a two-stop strategy, with Hamilton easily able to control the pace ahead of the two Ferraris.
The only subsequent talking point would be would Kimi Raikkonen's likely move to hand second to teammate Massa, and if so, when? The answer came towards the end of the race when Raikkonen did exactly what he had to do, handing over the place to Felipe, enabling him to score eight points and take the title battle down to the final race.
Raikkonen would finish third and Fernando Alonso fourth after another fighting drive in the Renault.
Robert Kubica's world championship hopes ended on Saturday, effectively, when poor balance on his BMW Sauber led to a poor qualifying result. The Pole put in a sterling race drive, however, really making the best out of a bad job and claiming sixth place behind his teammate Nick Heidfeld.
Down at the back of the field, there was plenty of action and several on-track passes that were sadly not shown on television. Sebastien Bourdais did most of the passing, making it past cars easily on track and also beautifully jumping Rosberg and Button at his first stop. Toro Rosso did a very good job with Bourdais' stops and strategy this afternoon.
Ultimately, the day belongs to Lewis Hamilton and his confident drive from the front today. He goes to Brazil in two week's time with a great chance of becoming Britain's first world champion since Damon Hill clinched the crown in 1996.
This was the 2008 Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix on autosport.com Live. We hope you have enjoyed our coverage throughout the weekend, and make sure to join us in a fortnight for the battle of Brazil.