|Lewis Hamilton buried the Ferrari team on Sunday|
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton put his stamp on the world driving title by controlling the Chinese GP from start to finish, while his title rival Felipe Massa could not match his pace and had to rely on Ferrari team orders to secure a distant second place 14.9 seconds behind, followed by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen, 16.4 seconds behind in third place.
Hamilton will take a seven-point lead into the final round of the world championship in Brazil.
The win is Hamilton's Hamilton with 94 points now leads the Drivers' Championship by seven points over Massa with 87 points. Kubica is now out of the title chase with 75 points over Raikkonen with 69. In the Constructors Championship Ferrari now leads McLaren-Mercedes by 11 points, 156 to 145, with BMW Sauber in third on 135 points and Renault with 82 points.
Fernando Alonso finished fourth for Renault, while the BMW Saubers completed the top six. Timo Glock used a one-stop strategy to take seventh for Toyota, ahead of Renault's Nelson Piquet.
When the penultimate round of the world championship got underway, the majority of the cars were on the prime tire, but the Ferraris were on the option. As the lights went out, the first three left the grid in order, Hamilton, Kimi and Felipe, with Kovalainen getting ahead of Alonso with the Renault man then getting the better of the Finn a few corners later. Most progress was made by Webber, going from 16th to 12th but he was running very light and would stop early. Trulli and Bourdais tangled shortly after the start and dropped to the back of the field. Trulli was the first to retire, on lap 3 in the Toyota. After four laps, Hamilton had a 2.7 lead over Kimi with Massa a further 2.0 behind. The leader then put in a fastest lap to extend his lead to 3.1. Alonso was still in touch with Felipe, but behind the Renault a gap of almost 5 seconds passed before the rest of the field crossed the line.
By lap 10, Hamilton had extended his lead over Kimi to 3.9 and over Felipe to 4.0. Behind them came Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel, Kubica, Webber with Piquet completing the top ten. Next time round and Kimi put in a fastest race lap, reducing the gap by 2 tenths. The best battle at this stage involved Rosberg's Williams all over the back of Glock's Toyota for 12th place, the Finn finally getting the upper hand.
As expected, Webber who had climbed as high as ninth, was the first to pit on lap 12. There were now almost identical gaps between the lead trio so that Hamilton to Massa was now 8.4 until Felipe refueled on lap 14 for 9 seconds, with Alonso also coming in at this time. The race leader came in next time round (9.4) as did Raikkonen. Kovalainen and Heidfeld now were in the top two slots, followed by Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Kubica and Massa seventh. Heidfeld pitted on 17, Kovalainen and Vettel on 18. When Kubica finally made his refueling stop on lap 25, the order at the front returned to its original setting, with Hamilton 6.9 ahead of Kimi, (the gap was coming down) followed by Felipe, (8.7 behind his team-mate,) Alonso, Kovalainen and Heidfeld seventh. If Kimi was closing the gap to the leader, Felipe was losing ground slightly to the Finn around the halfway point of the 56 lap race. Lap 30 and the gap between the lead two had grown again, to 7.5, as Kimi was in traffic. It grew to 8 two laps later.
Nakajima made his first stop and Webber his second on lap 32, while at the front, everything remained the same: Hamilton, Kimi, Felipe, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Kubica, Piquet, Vettel and Glock completing the top ten. There was a change when Kovalainen got a puncture and had to cruise back the pits. Alonso made his final stop from fourth on lap 36, with Felipe making his second stop on lap 37 (7.5.) Next in the race, leader followed in by Kimi.
Lap 42, the gap between Hamilton and Kimi was over 12 seconds, but Felipe was closing on his team-mate, only 2 seconds behind. On lap 49, Felipe closed his team-mate down and went past to go second. But he was 16.5 seconds behind the McLaren man with only seven laps remaining. That's how it stayed to the flag with Alonso fourth, Heidfeld fifth, Kubica, sixth, Glock seventh and Piquet in the last points position eighth.
Amid pressure and criticism, Lewis Hamilton was peerless in China, humbling the Ferraris by finishing a quarter of a minute ahead, and setting up a stroll to the title for Brazil. "We've got to stay calm and keep our heads," said the Briton in contemplation of the season finale in two weeks. Heikki Kovalainen's race was far more complicated; fiery brakes on the grid, a puncture, and finally a 'pneumatic system' problem. "The team called me in as a precautionary measure," said the Finn, and the DNF means he can use a fresh engine for the last race of 2008.
The Ferraris were no match for Hamilton, and title challenger Felipe Massa only finished second because his teammate Kimi Raikkonen let him past. The Brazilian's 7 point deficit to Hamilton means that, to become champion, he must win on home turf in Brazil, with Hamilton lower than fifth place.
Fernando Alonso came within two seconds of Raikkonen's podium in Shanghai, which combined with Nelson Piquet's single point secured fourth place in the constructors' championship. "Another strong race for us," said engineering boss Pat Symonds.
Robert Kubica had a spirited drive from 11th on the grid to sixth at the checkered flag, but the result ended his outside shot at the world championship. His teammate Nick Heidfeld finished one place higher. "The team has had a fantastic third season, and Robert especially had a very good year," said the German.
Jarno Trulli was furious with Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, after their first lap clash caused terminal damage to the Toyota. "It is frustrating because he did this once before this year at Spa, where he also ruined my race at the first corner," Trulli said of the Frenchman. After a difficult weekend, Timo Glock finished seventh.
The Trulli crash also spoiled Bourdais' race, as he climbed back through the field to be just 13th. "The car was good enough to score points today," he said. Teammate Sebastian Vettel, ninth, also failed to score despite starting the race sixth and suffering tire graining and a bad pitstop.
From a long way down the grid, David Coulthard and Mark Webber managed 10th and 14th places respectively.
Rubens Barrichello made the best of his bad RA108 in China, outperforming his teammate all weekend and finishing 11th of the 17 finishers. "We are very pleased that we beat several cars that have been faster than us of late," said team boss Ross Brawn. Jenson Button however had a disastrous weekend, finishing a lap down and next to last.
Williams' bad weekend did not improve on Sunday, when Nico Rosberg finished a painful 15th. "We ran a different strategy to Kazuki just to see if we could generate some advantage, but it didn't pay off," he lamented. Kazuki Nakajima held off Bourdais and Webber to finish 12th. "On this type of circuit the car is just not quick enough," said team co-owner Patrick Head.
Adrian Sutil has failed to finish many races this season, and in China his problem was a faulty gearbox. Giancarlo Fisichella finished a lonely last on a one-stop strategy, annoying a flying Raikkonen at one stage as the blue flags waved. "He did a good job to get the car home in what's been a difficult event for us," said technical boss Mike Gascoyne.
Driver Team On lap
Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 50
Sutil Force India-Ferrari 14
Trulli Toyota 3
Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:36.325