Hamilton must wait as title race goes to the wire

Lewis Hamilton's bid to become the first rookie driver to win the Formula One World Championship was put on hold after the McLaren driver suffered his first retirement of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix.

The 22-year-old beached his car in the gravel after sliding off the pit lane entry road as he came in to change heavily-worn tyres as an incredible season took another dramatic twist.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen won the 56-lap race by 9.8 seconds from second-placed McLaren driver Fernando Alonso as the pair set up a thrilling three-car showdown for the drivers' title in the final race at Brazil.

It had initially looked like Hamilton was set for an historic afternoon after he got away cleanly from pole and soon set about opening up an advantage over Raikkonen as all the field safely made it through the first corner. Alonso had managed to pass Massa round the outside for third but the Brazilian retook the place at Turn Six condemning the Spaniard to fourth. That was good news for Hamilton and the 22-year-old took control of the race with a succession of fastest laps to open up a 6.6-second lead over the Finn's Ferrari by lap 10, but more importantly was over 13 seconds ahead of team-mate Alonso, who had started to fall away from Massa after exerting brief pressure on the Brazilian.

Anthony Davidson, who had an earlier coming together with Rubens Barrichello, was forced to retire his Super Aguri on lap 13. The intermittent rain did not seem to bother Hamilton and he held a commanding lead by the time he made his first stop on lap 15, a 6.8 second effort, before Massa and Alonso followed soon after.

Raikkonen was the last stop and tried to make the most of the fact by setting a couple of fastest laps.When he rejoined, he had more than halved the deficit but it was a case of as you were for the top four. But that soon changed in dramatic circumstances.As the track continued to dry, Hamilton's wet weather tyres started to wear to such an extent that he was struggling to keep his McLaren on the circuit. The championship leader ran wide on numerous occasions and it was not long before he and Raikkonen were involved in a thrilling scrap for the lead that lasted the best part of a lap and a half before the Finn got his man on lap 29.

Hamilton was clearly in trouble as Raikkonen quickly opened a four-second lead and Alonso, who had finally passed Massa two laps previously, had reduced an 18-second deficit to virtually nothing.The Briton struggled along and came in on lap 31 but as he tried to make the final turn towards the pit entry, he could not keep his car on the track and ended up in the gravel. He tried to restart his McLaren but to no avail, admitting defeat and eventually climbing out of the car as boss Ron Dennis thumped his monitor in frustration on the pit wall.

Raikkonen then assumed control, pressing home his advantage over Alonso after the pair had both pitted for dry tyres.While Hamilton's retirement had sunk British spirits, Jenson Button was producing his strongest race of the season as his troublesome Honda was running fourth behind Massa.

Robert Kubica had briefly led but was forced to retire on lap 34 after his BMW Sauber developed a technical problem.Button made his second stop on lap 43 but was back up to fifth and chasing the Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel, who was again putting in another incredible drive on a one-stop strategy.

Raikkonen cruised to the chequered flag over the final laps to claim his fifth victory of the season and set up a three-car showdown in the final race of the season at Interlagos.

Alonso brought his McLaren home in second place, 9.8 seconds behind the Finn, to bag eight points and cut his deficit to Hamilton to just four. Massa finished where he started the 56-lap race, in third a further three seconds back, while Vettel claimed an incredible fourth in his Toro Rosso.

Button grabbed four valuable points for Honda in fifth place, Liuzzi made it a special day for Red Bull's junior team by finishing sixth, while BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld and Red Bull's David Coulthard claimed seventh and eight respectively.

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