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Lewis Hamilton

When Hamilton and McLaren threw away the World Championship

With F1 returning to China for the first time in five years, RacingNews365 looks back at one of the greatest, and most consequential, races to be held at the Shanghai International Circuit since it debuted on the F1 calendar in 2004.

2007 China
To news overview © xpb.cc

Lewis Hamilton’s maiden F1 season was one for the ages, but had it not been for a strategy blunder and a costly driver error, it would have been one for the record books, too.

Whilst the Chinese Grand Prix has occupied an early-season slot on the F1 calendar for the past 15 years, back in 2007 it was one of the last races of the year.

Hamilton had enjoyed an improbable debut season in F1, taking the fight to his more experienced, reigning double world champion team-mate in Fernando Alonso, the 22-year-old had shocked the F1 world by stringing together a run of nine consecutive podium finishes to open his career, including back-to-back wins in Canada and the US.

The unlikely challenge to Alonso’s supremacy rocked the McLaren team, leading to an internal power-struggle that destabilised the team, laying the foundations for a ferocious title battle between its two drivers as the championship headed towards the crescendo of its 17-race season.

By the time F1 got to China for the penultimate round of the year, Hamilton had managed to build a 12-point lead over Alonso, with a potential spoiler – Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – a close in third, a further five points back with only 20 left on offer (due to the previous points system in which a win was awarded 10 points, with eight for second place and six for finishing third, and so on…).

Having taken victory in the previous round at a sodden Fuji, Hamilton was well-placed to take the title in Shanghai.

If Hamilton could finish in second place, Alonso would have win to keep the championship battle alive, and the situation was almost completely out of Raikkonen’s hands, with the Ferrari driver needing Hamilton to finish well down the order.

So far, so good

Heading into Saturday’s qualifying, Raikkonen had looked the most likely to take pole position, topping all three free practice sessions. When he extended that run through Q1 and Q2, it appeared that the Finnish driver would seize the initiative for the race.

However, in dramatic fashion, Hamilton was able to pip the ex-McLaren driver to first on the grid, with the other championship protagonist, Alonso, having to settle for fourth, behind Raikkonen and his team-mate, Felipe Massa.

Wet weather rolled in on the morning of the race, leading drivers to start on intermediate tyres. When the lights went out, the top four remain unchanged – Alonso briefly took third, before Massa re-gained the position.

Despite others further down the field falling foul of the tricky conditions, the leading quartet would stay like this as the grand prix approached the halfway mark.

			© xpb.cc
	© xpb.cc

Turning point

However, as the track began to dry, Hamilton started to struggle as his tyres went off. Having ran wide, letting Raikkonen through, McLaren opted to keep him out, extending his opening stint – a choice that would prove to be the undoing of Hamilton’s title charge.

Even with the Ferrari now ahead and leading, with Alonso currently in third, all Hamilton had to do was hold steady in second and the drivers’ title would be his – the first rookie in F1 history to do so.

But as the young Briton came into the pits on lap 31, disaster struck. With his tyres badly worn, Hamilton miscalculated the sharp left-hander at the entrance to the pit-lane, sliding helplessly into the gravel.

With his car beached, even enlisting the assistance of the marshals was not enough to save his race. The then four-time race winner was out, his first retirement in Formula 1 from an unforced mistake at the most critical of moments.

Despite Raikkonen and Alonso maximising on Hamilton’s error, taking first and second place respectively, Hamilton still held control of the championship fight with F1 heading to the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.

He went into that final round with a four-point lead over Alonso and a seven-point advantage over Raikkonen

Controversy and suspicion still shroud that race in Sao Paulo. A temporary gearbox issue ruined Hamilton’s race, further compounded by another poor strategy choice by McLaren, consigned him to a seventh-place finish and just two further championship points.

Meanwhile, Raikkonen claimed a second consecutive victory and his only F1 drivers’ championship – one point ahead of both Hamilton and Alonso, who had finished the race in third.

However, regardless of what may or may not have taken place there, the crucial championship tipping point was, and will always be, the fraught Chinese Grand Prix, where Hamilton let his maiden F1 title slip away.

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