Lewis Hamilton had his one dodgy moment of the weekend so far when his McLaren lurched momentarily into oversteer in Turn Eight of the Shanghai International Circuit during his first run in the final qualifying session yesterday.
Until then he had been untouchable, and the manner in which he bounced back on his final run to grab pole position for what might be the most important race of his career demonstrated that his costly lapse into impetuosity in Japan had not affected his confidence. When it really mattered, he got the job done, and the expressions on the faces of Ferrari pilots Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, beaten into second and third place respectively, told their own story.
"There were some positives from the previous race," Hamilton said. "We came here very strong and determined, we have been very competitive all weekend and this qualifying was one of my best. That first lap in Q3 was not so great. In sector two on that first run I was down six-tenths. It was all good up until Turn Eight, where I had big oversteer and ran wide into the marbles, which messed me up for Turn Nine and Turn 10. I had to finish the lap so that I got a banker, so I couldn't bail out. I knew where the time was lost and went out and made sure I got it next time."
People like to make a lot of the pressure he must be under after the mistake in Fuji last weekend, but Hamilton looked fresh and relaxed throughout practice and qualifying.
"To be honest," he said, "nothing was hanging over me. There was nothing else in my mind but doing a good lap. I was happy with the balance of the car and so it was just a matter of going out and actually doing it. It was tough because everybody was very competitive. And it was exciting. I managed to pull it together, and it was the closest I could get to the perfect lap. That was hardcore..."
If the unfortunate default to his racer's instincts at the start in Japan ultimately cost him a chance of extending his Championship lead, and left him only five points ahead of Massa heading into this race, his demeanour in Shanghai spoke more of a man ready to embrace his destiny than one who, a year ago, saw his title hopes start to crumble here. There has been no shortage of criticism of his tactics this past week from Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber, nor advice on how he should prepare himself for the challenge ahead. But none of it appears to have bothered him or threatened his equilibrium. If anything, it has amused him.
"I take all the comments there have been lately as positive," he said. "I've only been in F1 a short time and I'm competitive. It was the same for Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill. When you win and you do well, that's the name of the game. As far as the envy of others is concerned, everyone has certain opinions; when the other guy is winning you're not going to be happy. But we all respect each other."
Hamilton said he would probably talk with Massa at some stage over the weekend, but that there was no heat after their controversial brush in Japan even though it cost him dearly. The two have always got on well.
"What happens on the circuit is one thing, but I think we can both be professional off the track," he said. "As far as I am concerned, the last race is in the past." Nor, he said, was he bothered about playing mind games. "I don't believe in them. My head is as strong as ever. I put my hands up for the last race and apologised to the team. There is no need to play gamesbecause we can do the job." But he could not resist a subtle and mischievous dig at Kubica and Alonso, both of whom are part of F1's card-playing school. "I don't play poker," he said with a smile, "I'm here to race."
And he had one final comment for Alonso, who went on record to say: "I will do my best to help Felipe win the World Championship." Hamilton shrugged that off and succinctly dismissed his former McLaren team-mate. "He was a double world champion who came to the team and got beaten by a rookie. That says it all..."
An error in today's race will damn Britain's best prospect for title honours since Hill in 1996. But the sort of spectacular performance he delivered in Monaco or Silverstone could see him crowned. "Winning the World Championship in my second year," he mused, as if pondering the prospect for the first time, "that would be a pretty cool thing..."Reuse content