Lewis Hamilton could still avoid the five-place grid penalty levied against him for an unscheduled gearbox change at the Chinese Grand Prix, although McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh admits that it is an extremely slim chance.
Whitmarsh revealed the window of opportunity after confirming that the Briton was running the 'box that had caused the pre-race worries during the opening 90-minute practice session at Shanghai International Circuit. Announcing that a final decision would be taken at the end of the day, Whitmarsh admitted to Sky Sports
that his team was never likely to have risked Hamilton's replacement unit on the opening day in China, but accepted that there was still a 99 per cent inevitability that the change would have to be made, automatically dropping the Briton five places further down the grid.
The gearbox apparently has a crack in it that could compromise reliability, but showed no signs of weakness as Hamilton topped the wet-dry practice session at SIC. The Briton, who currently lies second in the drivers' championship, five points behind Fernando Alonso, after back-to-back third places in Australia and Malaysia, lapped a second faster than the field on Friday morning, but start, at best, sixth in Sunday's race should he repeat the feat in qualifying.
Despite the setback, Hamilton has already spoken positively about his chances of returning to the top step of the podium in round three.
"We're still here, we've still got a great chance to win, we've still got a quick car, we'll try and put ourselves in the best position possible to make the right strategy and make sure that we're quick enough so that we can still fight for the lead," he told SpeedTV
after learning of the possible gearbox change on Thursday.