The Chinese Grand Prix may have made a heralded entrance to the Formula One schedule four years ago, but even that debut event will not have attracted as much attention as the 2007 instalment, which has the potential to see history being made.

After keeping his head while some of those around him were losing theirs at Fuji, Lewis Hamilton restored a healthy advantage to his points lead and could clinch the title in Shanghai, becoming the first rookie and first driver of black origin to do so.

McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen remain in contention with two rounds remaining but both need to beat Hamilton this weekend to take the fight to Interlagos. More than that, however, Alonso needs to ensure a two-point gap between himself and his rival - meaning a top two finish at least - while Raikkonen, currently 17 points adrift, really needs the Briton to have a nightmare weekend. Indeed, fans of the Finn, Bernie Ecclestone and all neutrals will no doubt be counting on a rare Hamilton retirement and victory for Raikkonen to set up a blistering Brazilian GP in two weeks' time.

The only problem there is that Hamilton has yet to retire from any GP.....

As mentioned above, Lewis Hamilton could become a rookie title winner this weekend if results go his way - and that could be a result that would finally lead to team-mate Fernando Alonso electing to leave the McLaren stable. Should that happen, Alonso would be welcomed back at Renault with open arms, a fact team boss Flavio Briatore has made clear to the Spaniard.

If Alonso was to return, it could see Heikki Kovalainen forced out of the regie despite his own impressive debut, with rumours linking him with a switch to Toyota to replace Ralf Schumacher, who has confirmed that he will leave the Cologne-based team at the end of the season after three years.

After a year out of the paddock, Ross Brawn could return at team boss at Ferrari next season according to Jean Todt but the team is unlikely to have a new driver line-up - with Todt pointing out that both Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa have contracts the team intends to honour.

Following the e-mail farce at Fuji that saw Ferrari ordered to pit its drivers for extreme wet weather tyres, the FIA has confirmed that it will use 'traditional methods' to deliver future communications to the teams, while further follow-up news from Fuji sees Toro Rosso appeal against the exclusion of Tonio Liuzzi from the race - an exclusion that gave Spyker a first points finish of the year.

Finally, the Hamilton-factor continues to go from strength to strength, with ticket sales for the British Grand Prix having gone up by 50 per cent on the back of the youngster's success. What bet a quick sell-out if he wraps up the title this weekend?

McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

With the way the points stand heading to Shanghai, perhaps the main saving grace for McLaren is that it doesn't have to countenance deciding which driver to favour in order to fend off a challenge from Ferrari. Hamilton's twelve-point advantage makes him strong favourite to land the title, if not in China, then in Brazil two weeks from now, so the Woking team can effectively allow its line-up to go head-to-head, provided their rivalry doesn't get the better of them.

"To have both Lewis and Fernando going into the final two races of the season with an opportunity to win the world championship is a fantastic situation for the team," admitted CEO Martin Whitmarsh, "Whilst Lewis is clearly in a stronger position, it is by no means over for Fernando and we are going to have two very motivated drivers in China. Japan was the first race where two Vodafone McLaren Mercedes cars did not take the chequered flag, and this demonstrates the competitiveness of the team this season."

Hamilton's win in Japan saw him achieve another milestone as he became the first driver in the history of F1 to reach the 100-point mark in only 15 races, eclipsing even the great Michael Schumacher as he maintain a 100 per cent finishing record that has seen him outside the points on only one occasion, at the Nurburgring. Despite his current advantage over Alonso, however, the British rookie is taking nothing for granted.

"We are going into these races with a really tight drivers' battle, with only twelve points between me and Fernando," he said, "Anything is still possible, but I am feeling confident and very determined and I hope we will have another couple of exciting races.

"There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about the championship, but I just push that to the back of my mind. I am only focused on the next two races and doing the best I can in China and Brazil. The last two races of this season are at tracks that I have not ever been to before, but I don't see that as a problem, as this has been the case on four occasions already this season, at Melbourne, Montreal, Indy and Fuji - and I was on the podium at all of those. Everything is too tight for me to predict what will happen, but the races in China always seem to be exciting and I feel well prepared to take on the challenge."

Alonso's task has been made harder by an uncharacteristic error that took him out of the Japanese Grand Prix and left the Mclaren team with the job of replacing a badly-damaged MP4-22 in less than a week. With the car suffering significant injury, which is not reparable at the track, it was returned to McLaren's Technology Centre and a replacement chassis despatched from Woking almost as soon as news of Fernando's accident reached base. That will become the 'new' spare, with the Spaniard using the spare from Japan as his race car.

"My retirement in Japan has not made it easy for me in the championship, but there are still 20 points to be won and I am going to fight hard for each one of them," the double world champion insisted, "There is always a lot of talk of pressure and distractions at this time of the year, but all I think about is racing and winning at Shanghai and Interlagos. We are all focused on this aim and giving the maximum over the next few weeks.

McLaren is no stranger to inter-necine duels for the title and engine partner Mercedes is keen that the outcome is decided in an amicable manner.

"The Chinese Grand Prix has a lot of challenging aspects for the team," Norbert Haug, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport noted, "Lewis will be able to win the world championship but, on the other side, if he can produce the appropriate result, Fernando will be able to reverse the situation and to keep his title hopes alive until the final race in Brazil.

"The team members will go into this possibly decisive grand prix as focused as in the previous 15 races, and they will do everything to ensure both Lewis and Fernando will have the best opportunities to win. Both the drivers will have the same equipment and support; we obviously hope that the championship will be decided on the track under the same conditions - tough, fair and without crashes."
Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

The ING Renault F1 team heads to China on something of a high, having recorded its first podium of the season and left Fuji as the best scoring outfit after Giancarlo Fisichella backed up Heikki Kovalainen's second place with fifth on the road in a treacherous event.

"It was very satisfying, because everything worked out right," admitted chief engineer Alan Permane, "We had a good strategy, the pit-stops went well, and both drivers did a great job to stay on track in very tricky conditions. We scored twelve points, more than any other team has managed in a single weekend this year apart from McLaren and Ferrari, so it was a very good result for the entire team.

"We are feeling very positive [for Shanghai], not just because of the result in Japan, but also thanks to the basic performance of the car. We looked competitive in dry conditions at Fuji on Friday, and Shanghai is not too dissimilar in its demands. We have continued adding performance to the car over the last races, and I am confident that a straightforward weekend, in dry conditions, will allow us to transform that improved potential into results.

For Kovalainen, the podium finish was justification of his ability after a tough start to the year and, after tasting success on one unfamiliar circuit, he is keen to do so again at another new venue.

"It was a good reward for me, but also the whole team," he confirmed, "I think it was good for everyone in the team to have this small success, which is something they were used to during the past two seasons when they won the world titles. It is a good boost to the morale to try and finish the season in the best way possible.

"The whole grand prix week in Shanghai will be enjoyable but, at the track, I want to get into a good rhythm as soon as possible on Friday and make the most of each practice session, because I have never driven here before. The important thing will be to work well on Friday, to find the limits for qualifying and the race. We are determined to show what the car is really capable of during these final two races."

Despite rumours coming out of Italy that Kovalainen may be hawked to Toyota for 2008, the pressure is still on for Fisichella to produce the sort of results that will convince the team to keep him on for another year. Fifth at Fuji showed that the veteran still had what it takes to run in tricky conditions, but he needs to repeat that this weekend.

"I have always felt comfortable driving in the wet," he explained, "In Japan, the car didn't have a perfect set-up for the conditions because we had hoped it would be dry on Sunday. There was a lot of aquaplaning, and I was fighting with the car, but I still got to fifth place after what was probably one of the hardest races of my career. The points I scored were valuable and it was a very strong team result."

Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

The Ferrari challenge on the title is now firmly in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, after Felipe Massa saw his championship dream come to an end at Fuji despite a spirited drive to sixth place.

However, Raikkonen is the firm outsider of the three drivers still in contention for the title and goes into the weekend knowing that he simply has to win to retain any hope of overhauling Hamilton - while the youngster would effectively have to fail to score.

The Finn himself admits that the title is a long shot with the points standings as they are, with his focus very much on trying to end his own season in the best way possible.

"We went to Japan in quite a difficult points situation," he said. "Now we have to deal what happened there and, for sure, now it looks much worse. But there is nothing we can do for it anymore.

"Obviously, we have just a little hope for the championship. But it is better to have a slight hope than no hope at all. We will not give up. No way. We are fighters and we will prove it again. Now we just do our very best to win these two last races. It is up to the others how we finish in the championship.

"It looks like Hamilton has wrapped it up, but we will not give up. At least we try to make it more difficult for them by winning these last two races. I have never won in Shanghai, but I have finished second and third there. It is quite normal circuit. Shanghai suits us as well as any other place. Just let's wait and see, how it starts to go there. We push hard until the very finish and on Sunday evening we hope to have the best feelings again."

With his title hopes now gone, and with the constructors' title secured, Massa has nothing to lose heading to China and can go all out for victory - although whether or not he is able to go for glory could depend on how the race pans out and whether or not Raikkonen is still in a position to take the title fight down to the last round.

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

After another challenging grand prix, this time at the rain-soaked Fuji Speedway, Honda switches its attention to the penultimate race of the season in the hope of adding to its points tally.

Japan turned sour for the team after Jenson Button's top six grid slot was wasted in a first corner accident with Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello was forced to make a late pit-stop that dropped him out of the points, but the squad arrives in Shanghai with its hopes undimmed.

"After such a strong qualifying performance at Fuji on Saturday, we were extremely disappointed that we were unable to convert this into a point-scoring position in the race," senior technical director Shuhei Nakamoto admitted, "But we move to China now and hope for better things at the Shanghai International Circuit.

"This is a very technical track which places great emphasis on driver skill and car stability. Our drivers are looking forward to the challenge. We have some new developments from our recent test in Jerez and hope that we will be able to end the season on a stronger note and with a point or two."

Both drivers enjoy the Hermann Tilke-penned layout at SIC, although neither was making too many predictions of points this weekend.

"The Shanghai circuit is a demanding one for the drivers, and quite technical, but it is also fun to drive," Button commented, "The length of the corners, particularly turn one which is tough on the neck, is quite something and you have to remember to breathe as you go round the lap. In turns seven, eight and nine, the g-forces are so high that you are unable to breathe."

Barrichello, without a point so far this season, takes another step towards becoming the most experience F1 driver of all time in China and has fond recollections of the place, having won the very first grand prix there in 2004.
BMW Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

With only Robert Kubica scoring in Japan, after Nick Heidfeld was forced to slow late on, BMW Sauber will be hoping to bounce back to 'best of the rest' form in China.

Remarkably, the team that has pushed Ferrari and McLaren closest so far this season has yet to match the twelve-point haul amassed by closest rival Renault at Fuji, although the turnaround in fortunes has little effect on the constructors' championship, with the German/Swiss team 41 points clear of its French rival.

As a result, the BMW pairing can concentrate on improving their own personal hauls, with both enjoying the Shanghai circuit.

"Turns one, two and three are among my favourite sections on the race calendar," Heidfeld revealed, "You approach the first turn at high speed, go into it flat out, but then the corner increasingly tightens up and you have to shift right down to second. Making a clean exit will be even more interesting next year when we'll be driving without traction control again but, overall, I'm rather fond of this circuit."

Team-mate Kubica enjoyed a wheel-to-wheel battle at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix, eventually having to give best to Ferrari's Felipe Massa, and is hoping to carry his feisty form to China.

"Last year's grand prix was pretty interesting for me, with qualifying wet and then touching with Robert Doornbos at the start of the race," the Pole recalled, "I gained a lot of positions, but then, when the track was drying, we put the grooved tyres on too early. It is quite a nice track with, again, a very long straight, and maybe there is an overtaking possibility at the end of the long back straight too."

For more, see Part 2 of our Chinese Grand Prix preview...



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