There was a time, earlier this weekend, when pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix seemed as remote a dream for Lewis Hamilton as a world championship without political intervention is for weary fans of Formula One. That was when his quest for a rookie title was in danger of being derailed by yet another penalty levied by the FIA. It was small wonder that he was more than a little bemused until the threat was finally lifted late on Friday evening. To push through after all that was, indeed, sweet for the 22-year-old Englishman.
"This weekend has been a bit of a rollercoaster and quite an emotional trip," he admitted. "After a great weekend in Fuji I came here nice and early on Thursday and found out they were investigating me for what happened behind the safety car. I thought immediately that I was going to get a penalty, otherwise why would they investigate? Thankfully with the team's support I got through it. It was not easy yesterday to forget about the threat that I might get points taken away, but it was a good decision by the FIA last night."
Indeed it was, but the entire episode did not reflect well on a sport that has already been sullied by all the political machinations this season. The governing body stood accused of stirring things up, at a time when the imminence of Hamilton's championship was surely good enough publicity.
Whoever was responsible, the situation was milked through Thursday and all of Friday as race officials, led by the permanent steward Tony Scott Andrews, studied so-called "new evidence" that came in the form of amateur film footage from the YouTube website. This purported to show that Hamilton was responsible for the incident behind the safety car in which the Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Vettel shunted into the back of his Red Bull stablemate Mark Webber, eliminating both.
Quite why it took so long to sort out remains a mystery that did little credit to the sport's powerbrokers, but eventually the stewards decided that no action was necessary and Hamilton could breathe again.
Whether that decision was influenced at long range by harsh criticism of the FIA remains a moot point. A highly critical letter was recently sent by the 1996 world champion Damon Hill to Autosport magazine, in support of triple champion Sir Jackie Stewart whom FIA president Max Mosley recently described as a "certified halfwit".
"Last week I was amazed and appalled to read Max Mosley's comments about Sir Jackie Stewart," Hill said. "In the last few months the administration of Formula 1 has come in for a great deal of attention, not least because its decisions could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the drivers' championship. Without becoming diverted from my point in writing, by becoming embroiled in my own personal views of the folly of that whole episode, it is quite clear that Sir Jackie is owed a public apology by Max.
"It is well known that Sir Jackie is dyslexic and has struggles (as many thousands do) to cope with the all too easily made judgement that they are less intelligent than "ordinary" folk. This is in fact more often than not quite the opposite, and many dyslexic people are highly intelligent and extraordinarily gifted, as I believe is the case with Sir Jackie. To call him therefore a 'certified halfwit' would be on the first level unkind, but on another level, indeed the level at which Mr Mosley would like us to understand he operates on, is nothing other than a wicked joke designed to visit the utmost humiliation on its victim.
"Regardless of whether or not he was alluding to his dyslexia, what he said was a gross insult to one of the sport's leading figures over the last four decades and a thrice world champion. Not only is it bad manners, it also brings into question the character and judgement of the man who represents motorsport throughout the world through the august institution of the FIA. It was conduct most unbecoming of an FIA president and brought the sport into disrepute, a crime he recently seems so keen to eradicate. I would like to emphasise that my motive for writing is sheer indignation and outrage at what I see is abuse."
The decision to exonerate Hamilton was a major victory for common sense, and he made the most of it to give himself the best starting position for a race that could see him crowned champion at the first attempt.
After he outran Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, and McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, his closest rival, Hamilton said: "I went into final qualifying not sure which tyre was the best, the soft or the hard, so after I did the first run on the harder one I decided let's go for it and take a risk on the soft. The car was good. I got a cushion to warm them up; with my other poles I've always been the last to cross the line, this way gives you breathing space and time to relax, and I did it a little bit better."
Of the 90 per cent threat of similar conditions to those in which he won in Fuji, he simply said: "After my experience there I'm not bothered whether it's wet or dry. It'll be tricky either way but I'm in the best position to start the race and feel very optimistic. I will approach it in the same way I approach every race: I want to win. If I do that it might be a good day for us."
1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1min 35.908
2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:36.044
3 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:36.221
4 F Alonso (Sp) McLaren 1:36.576
5 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1:37.619
6 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:38.013
7 M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1:38.153
8 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:38.455
9 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:38.472
10 J Button (GB) Honda 1:39.285
11 V Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.862
12 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.891
13 J Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:36.959
14 H Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:36.991
15 A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1:37.247
16 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:37.483
17 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:37.251
18 G Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:37.290
19 A Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 1:37.456
20 T Sato (Jap) Super Aguri-Honda 1:38.218
21 A Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari 1:38.668
22 S Yamamoto (Jap) Spyker-Ferrari 1:39.336
Watch Hamilton in the Chinese GP live on ITV1. The race starts at 7am, with a full rerun at 11.30am