Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2007, 12:00am

What a time for the Formula One circus to reach our neck of the woods. By the end of this week's grand prix in Shanghai we may well have a new world champion.

Lewis Hamilton needs nine points to ensure he is the first rookie world champion and the youngest ever at just 22.

That last record will be taken from his teammate - although that's probably stretching the term - Fernando Alonso, which no doubt will be one of the sweeter moments, should it happen.

There's no doubt Hamilton deserves to be crowned champ, especially after his heroics in Japan last weekend. I've argued before that all you need to transform a procession into an action-packed, spin-a-minute race is a spot of rain. Actually a monsoonal deluge was nearer the mark, which is what you get when you stage a race next to Mount Fuji at the end of September.

If you've ever doubted the courage of F1 drivers, watching the on-board TV footage on Sunday was enough to make you realise how brave - or stupid - they are. There are few people who would want to, let alone be able to, drive like that without doing serious damage to themselves and the car. No wonder they earn so much more than the rest of us.

Perhaps the most stunning moment was on the start/finish straight. We watched as the all encompassing grey spray was punctuated by a small red light. The red light slowly disappeared to the left of the screen. It transpired that we had just witnessed an overtaking manoeuvre at 320km/h.

For Hamilton things couldn't have gone better. It was a triumph for his skill and temperament in untested waters (almost literally). It was also a graphic illustration of why Alonso is so angry not to get top status in the team.

With Hamilton leading the Spaniard early on, the pit stops loomed. With no team orders it was always going to be the second place driver who gets pulled in first, and so it proved.

Unfortunately for Alonso, when he re-appeared on lap 27 he was seventh, stuck behind a procession of slower cars. Hamilton had the luxury of an extra lap before stopping and an extra few seconds in hand - he came out third and was well placed to reclaim the lead.

There was worse to come for Alonso. The tyres he had acquired during the stop were real lemons, and try as he might, he was going backwards. Perhaps he was considering whether it was so clever to make so many enemies in the team.

Certainly the reaction to his crash on lap 42 was instructive. The TV coverage showed the reaction of the McLaren crew sitting in the pits. Actually there wasn't much reaction. Most just sat there stony-faced. It wasn't the sign of a team in love with its driver.

Just like the championship, it would seem the Alonso-Hamilton mini soap is reaching its end game. Fernando Alonso has just announced: 'I'd be delighted if I didn't carry on with Hamilton.' You don't say. That was in response to Hamilton saying he'd rather not drive with Alonso, even if that meant the Spaniard going to Ferrari.

That isn't going to happen, Jean Todt categorically ruling that one out for next year. Alonso's old boss Flavio Briatore has offered him his old seat back at Renault, and Toyota might want to throw their megabucks at him now Ralf Schumacher has announced he's quitting.

He might be tempted by Renault, but the bottom line is that he wants a car that can win him the world championship. Which means he might want to be at McLaren.

I wonder if Ron Dennis fancies putting up with that after all the headaches and heartaches of this season. I doubt it, and I will put money on Hamilton going nowhere. So if you are off to Shanghai this weekend you may well witness more history than you bargained for. Not only a new world champion, but also an old one with his options narrowing fast.