Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 October, 2008, 12:00am

So it comes down to this. Lewis Hamilton could win the world title in Shanghai this weekend. I'd like to say it's down to the drivers to grab their chance and fashion their destiny, but increasingly it seems the stewards are the people deciding the destination of the 2008 championship.

Let's hope the race this weekend doesn't have so many interventions from the three wise men as we've seen recently. Last Sunday's interventions in Japan added drama, but that surely should be provided on the track. After Lewis Hamilton's penalty in Spa, you can see why the Formula One blogs are awash with McLaren fans claiming a conspiracy.

I don't think that is fair on the stewards, the FIA or Ferrari, but Hamilton and McLaren are seething at the perceived injustice of it all. The Spa incident seemed a bit harsh, and the drive-through penalty for the first corner shenanigans in Japan seemed equally odd. It was after all the first corner, and Hamilton handed himself a penalty by shredding his tyres and having to pit. The stewards' standing in the blogosphere wasn't improved by penalising Sebastian Bordais, for his seemingly innocent coming together with Felipe Massa. That handed Massa another championship point.

According to Ron Dennis, Hamilton was on the radio complaining bitterly about the decision. It's just as well in this instance that TV doesn't have access to McLaren's radio transmissions. I imagine the language used would have been enough to produce Formula One's first 18-rated broadcast.

Of course Massa got a penalty himself for hitting Hamilton. No arguments there, although he managed to argue the toss over it. It makes you wonder if Massa has been taking inspiration from former teammate Michael Schumacher. Now, here was a genius who wouldn't flinch from applying the dark arts of racing.

Remember him taking out Damon Hill and thus ensuring the championship in 1994? If there had been the internet, the bloggers would be apoplectic. Still, when he tried the same trick against Jacques Villeneuve three years later, he was disqualified. Perhaps interference from the stewards isn't such a new phenomenon after all.

All this anguish over the deliberations of the stewards could have been avoided had Hamilton just kept calm in Japan. The first corner rush of blood was totally unnecessary, given that Massa was safely behind him. He knew he had to come in for tyres as a result, so what was he doing trying to race Massa anyway?

'Red mist' seems to be the answer, and not only did it cost him dear in Japan, but it could cost him this weekend, too. All of a sudden wonder boy has an Achilles' heel, and his rivals will do all they can to get him wound up (without upsetting the stewards of course). It would appear this impetuosity is the flip side of his breathtaking aggression when he drives. You wonder whether taking away one would be taking away the other.

Of course Hamilton's fans could be pointing an accusing finger at this column. Forget 'commentator's curse', how about 'columnist's curse'? Last week I lauded the British driver for his maturity in Singapore, and holding back his racing nature to collect the points. It would seem a week is a long time in Formula One.

That could be the mantra for McLaren this weekend. Hamilton is a quick learner and, given the see-saw nature of this championship, surely this Sunday won't be as much of a stinker as last week. Much has been made of how Hamilton threw away a 17-point advantage in the last two races last year.

Given his Japanese travails and his slender five-point lead now, you might expect history to repeat itself. Massa surely will be dreaming of clinching the championship in front of his own fans in the last race in Brazil. I wouldn't be so sure, given Ferrari's wobbles this season.

I think Hamilton will clinch it this time around, possibly this weekend. Columnist's curse and stewards permitting.

Losing it

The points lead Lewis Hamilton (above) enjoyed going into the final two races of last year's championship: 17