McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton did everything but win the title in Shanghai on Sunday, as he scored his fifth victory of the season in a pluperfect style that left championship rival Felipe Massa floundering in his wake.
The Brazilian ran third for much of the race, astern of Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen as they struggled vainly to keep the McLaren in sight. Then on lap 49 the Finn conceded second place, so that Massa left China with 87 points to Hamilton’s 94 - and with his admittedly fading championship aspirations still alive.
Raikkonen stayed clear of a closing Fernando Alonso, who pushed hard all the way through for Renault, and Nick Heidfeld led BMW Sauber team mate Robert Kubica home as the Pole saw his own title hopes die. His three points leave him on 75, too far behind Hamilton.
The race started with a bang. Hamilton easily beat the Ferraris into the first corner and Alonso finally got the better of McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen as they duelled over fourth. Further back, however, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais tipped Jarno Trulli’s Toyota into a spin. The Frenchman was badly delayed; the Italian made one pit stop at the end of the lap and another a lap later, to retire.
Adrian Sutil and Kovalainen were the only other non-finishers. The Force India stopped on the entry to the pits on lap 13, and Kovalainen, whose McLaren had been smoking on the grid, fell from fifth place to the tail of the field on lap 35 when its right front Bridgestone tyre failed. Later he parked the car in the garage with a mechanical problem.
A one-stop strategy worked well for Timo Glock as he brought the second Toyota home seventh ahead of Nelson Piquet, who had a strong run in the other Renault. There were no points for Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso as they finished ninth, ahead of Red Bull’s David Coulthard and an aggressive Rubens Barrichello who was on good form for Honda. Kazuki Nakajima was another one-stopper, finishing 12th ahead of Bourdais, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Williams team mate Nico Rosberg, Honda’s Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Force India.
The race did not, in the end, clinch the title for Hamilton, but it did exorcise the ghost of Fuji and it leaves him needing only four points in Brazil. That means he can let the Ferraris and Alonso do what they like, as fifth place will do the job whatever Massa achieves.