Monday 22 January 2018

Formula One: Sod's Law as Hamilton title bid bites dust

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

Tom Cary in Mokpo

It may have been a "heroic" drive, according to his team principal Martin Whitmarsh, but it ended in tragicomic fashion.

With Lewis Hamilton's title hopes fading even faster than his battered McLaren, a broken rear anti-roll bar having dropped the Briton so far down the field he was engaged in an unseemly battle with the Toro Rossos for the minor points, a large slab of AstroTurf managed to detach itself from Korea's soulless circuit and cling to his car's sidepod where it flapped around for three laps until the finish line.

Hamilton's faltering challenge had been extinguished by a two-metre square bit of artificial grass. You could almost see the headlines: Sod's Law, Turf Wars.

It was no laughing matter for Hamilton. "I'm sad," he said, "because we are out of the championship fight and that hope had been there all season right up to the start of this race.

"It is not easy to deal with because I started training in December and every thought, every day I have woken up has been about winning this championship and how I can do it and how I can improve and how I can stay consistent. It has been a constant battle all year. But I still have four races to put in strong performances."

Hamilton may well win again this year -- the car is still quick and it seems too incredible to think the Mercedes-bound 27-year-old may never win another race for McLaren.

However, the drivers' championship will now almost certainly be contested exclusively between Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who won his third successive race in ultra-dominant fashion, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, whose characteristically gritty drive to third place saw him surrender his long-standing lead in the title race but kept him within six points of the German.

SMART

One of those two will win his third crown this season and the smart money has to be on Vettel. The Red Bull driver has now led every lap of every race since Hamilton's McLaren ground to a halt 22 laps into last month's Singapore Grand Prix. And he has proved over the past two years that he knows how to close out a championship.

The victory was never in doubt from the moment Vettel passed his team-mate Mark Webber on the run to the first corner. The Korean International Circuit may be a characterless monstrosity built on the outskirts of Mokpo, an industrial port hundreds of miles from anywhere on the shores of the Yellow Sea.

It may attract fewer spectators than there are 'love motels' in town. But for some reason, Vettel seems to love it here. He has led all but 10 of the laps there have ever been at this circuit, and if his engine hadn't blown up in 2010 he would probably have led them all.

Only wear in his front right tyre threatened this victory, his engineer Guillaume Rocquelin becoming so concerned over the final laps that he implored him repeatedly to slow down. He needn't have worried.

Alonso, who had briefly threatened to challenge Webber for second place, was well beaten and left breathing "a big sigh of relief".

"Vettel and Red Bull have had three perfect weekends, so congratulations for that, but when everything goes smoothly for so long, inevitably sooner or later something has to happen," said the Spaniard, who continues to eke every last drop of performance from his machine.

"We are right in the fight for the title with a car that has never been the fastest. It seems we are capable of doing something good." To cap a solid weekend for Ferrari, Felipe Massa finished fourth helping the Scuederia to overhaul McLaren in the constructors' championship.

The Woking team had a disastrous weekend, Whitmarsh calling it one of the toughest he had ever experienced. As well as the problem with Hamilton's rear anti-roll bar, Jenson Button's race was over almost before it started.

The 2009 world champion was taken out at the third corner by Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi in a shocking bit of driving which also accounted for the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.

INCENSED

Button was incensed, calling Kobayashi an "idiot" over the team radio and "Kobay-crashi" in a later interview.

"It seems both Sauber drivers think the first lap of the race is the only lap," said the Englishman, who had only narrowly avoided a collision with the other Sauber, belonging to his team-mate next year Sergio Perez, at the very first corner.

"It's very poor driving standards, considering this is the pinnacle of motorsport."

Whitmarsh was left shell-shocked, but was generous in his praise of Hamilton after another tough week for his wantaway star. "We have just got one of the hardest-won points this team has ever had," Whitmarsh said of Hamilton's 10th place. "Lewis did a fantastic job. He was incredibly tenacious and heroic."

But ultimately helpless. As he threatened to reclaim eighth and ninth places from the Toro Rossos, Hamilton's hopes were ended in bizarre fashion. As one wag said, James Hunt was probably the last McLaren driver to take so much grass on board. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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