Will it be a Hamilton hat-trick in China?

Apr 15, 2012, 07:48 IST | Kunal Shah

McLaren ace is the only Formula One World Champion to have won the Chinese Grand Prix twice before

Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 Formula One World Champion, didn’t have the best of seasons in 2011, where he was beaten by a teammate for the first time ever in his F1 career. However, at the start of the 2012 season, Hamilton announced that he had tided over his personal problems and would be at his lethal best.

McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton waves to fans during the qualifying session for the Chinese GP in Shanghai on Saturday. Pic/AFP

And if the start to Season 2012 is anything to go by, Hamilton does seem to be the most lethal driver in the qualifying sessions on Saturday, but somehow ends up losing pace and positions on Sunday’s Race Day. In the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix recently, Hamilton started on pole and ended up finishing third.

However, things could change in Sunday’s Chinese GP. It is known and now established that the McLaren is one of the fastest cars on the grid and have set the pace early in this season. They are one of the few teams to have mastered the art of balancing qualifying vs race pace, which allows their MP4-27 to be quick on Saturday as well as the Sunday. This was visible and proved at the season opening Australian GP, where Hamilton took pole and teammate Button won the race win.

The Hamilton-Button duel is expected to get more exciting and competitive as the season progresses and in my observation, Hamilton has the advantage over a one-lap pace, whereas Button is quicker in race pace. This difference is mainly due to different driving styles, where Button is able to preserve his tyres better and longer than Hamilton. Given the highly durable nature of the 2012 Pirelli tyres, Hamilton’s aggressive driving style leads to more tyre wear and tear.

However, being a F1 driver is all about adapting to the car and tyres and so Hamilton should change things sooner rather than later. Hamilton will face a stiff challenge on two fronts. First, his five-place grid penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change between Malaysia and China. Hamilton finished
second in qualifying, which means he starts Sunday’s race 7th on the grid. Michael Schumacher has previously won the Chinese GP (2006) starting from 6th place.

Secondly, there’s enough competition from Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who have improved race pace, and of course teammate Jenson Button. Ferrari can’t be written off either. The surprise winners of the Malaysian GP, are expected to bring five upgrades to their F2012 this weekend and hopefully make it go faster.

All-in-all, statistics have never helped anyone win races or change their luck (and Hamilton needs both). But one must also note that each of the six World Champions on the grid have won the Chinese Grand Prix just once previously, while Hamilton is the only driver to have done so twice!

Come Sunday, a Hamilton hat-trick at Shanghai looks to be a possibility. 

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