Monday, October 20, 2008

Parade Laps at the Chinese Grand Prix

by Noah Joseph

If you've been following the 2008 Formula One World Championship and watched the last few races from Japan, Singapore and Italy, you've likely grown accustomed to some serious white-knuckle, wheel-to-wheel racing. This weekend's Chinese Grand Prix bore little resemblance to those topsy-turvy, order-upsetting races, and more like a centrally-planned parade that Red China has grown accustomed to. So if you missed today's race from Singapore Shanghai, don't fret. You can follow the jump to find out how it turned out.

Gallery: 2009 Chinese Grand Prix

The 2008 drivers' championship has been a pretty close race between four serious drivers – Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen and Kubica – all throwing their proverbial hats into the ring for contention. The results, then, from the penultimate race of the season bears significant standing, so we won't keep you guessing any longer. But if you checked in to see the qualifying positions on Saturday, you won't find any surprises, as the top four positions remained, for the most part, unchanged from Saturday morning.

Title front-runner Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole and took the checkered flag, bearly giving up the lead the entire race and crossing the finish line nearly fifteen full seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver qualified third and ran in that position for most of the race. His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, by now out of contention to defend his title, qualified second and held his place for the bulk of the race distance until he played the role of wing-man by dropping back to let Massa pass on team orders to give him a fighting chance at the drivers' title going into the last round. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso, who has enjoyed a fruitful tail end of the season after two back-to-back wins in Singapore and Japan, took a solid fourth place, the very same position from which he started.

Farther down the finishing order things seemed a little less like a procession. Grid positions 5 (Heikki Kovalainen), 6 (Sebastian Vettel), 7 (Jarno Trulli) and 8 (Sebastien Bourdais) gave up their positions, with Kovalainen and Trulli retiring and the Toro Rosso duo having a less than splendid day. That let the rest of the field move up, but while there was some passing going on, it was few and far between. Coming around the hemispheric curve at the end of the straight, the cameras repeatedly caught the large grandstands that were all but completely empty. Race promoters in Shanghai had, in previous seasons, sold tickets at drastically reduced prices in order to fill seats, but this time the bleachers remained empty. In their place were enormous block letters spelling out "EXPO 2010", promoting the World's Fair scheduled to come to Shanghai in two years. Hopefully that event will offer a better spectacle than this year's Chinese Grand Prix.

As for what the finishing order means for the title fight, Lewis Hamilton has expanded his lead heading into the final round, if only by one point, over Felipe Massa at 94 to 87. Robert Kubica, next down the list, trails with 75, ahead of Raikkonen's 69. That means that only Massa can deprive Hamilton of the drivers' title, and it'll take some exceptional circumstances. But the seven point lead is exactly what Hamilton held last year heading into the final race in Brazil when the title ended up going to Raikkonen. Ferrari leads 156-145 over McLaren in the constructors' title fight, but we'll have to wait until November 2 to see if Massa can repeat his team-mate's upset... on his own home turf.

Gallery: 2009 Chinese Grand Prix

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