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China GP - Championship on a knife edge

Shanghai, 19th October - Second and third for Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen respectively in the Chinese Grand Prix, but a mountain to climb for the Brazilian driver with one round remaining in the world championship, as the winner today, producing what one has to say was a faultless lights to flag performance, was Lewis Hamilton. This means the Englishman extends his lead over Massa to seven points with just ten to play for in Brazil in a fortnight's time. In the Constructors' classification, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro leads its closest rivals, McLaren-Mercedes by eleven points.

As the cars gridded the forecast was for some chance of rain around the mid-point of the race. Kimi was on the front row alongside pole man Hamilton, while Felipe was behind the McLaren driver in third place, with Fernando Alonso alongside him.

When the penultimate round of the world championship got underway, the majority of the cars were on the prime tyre, 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.
Lewis Hamilton
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 refuelled 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 refuelling 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.

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