I think the Ferrari guys could only look on in awe and respect at the guy I like to call ‘Hammo the Hammer’ on Sunday. In ITV’s post-race interview, Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley wondered aloud how much of the performance was down to McLaren, and how much was down to Hamilton.
He pointed out how badly Kovalainen had done as an example of how good the McLaren might not be. A point well made – McLaren would have been nowhere if they had two Heikkis in the seats.
Look on and be awe-struck by these figures. The Hammer absolutely kicked Raikkonen’s (and Massa’s, and Ferrari’s) butt in the first 20 laps of the Chinese Grand Prix – here we saw a world-class driver at the peak of his game. Let there be no mistake, we have one of the greatest drivers ever in the history of this sport doing battle for Britain.
OK, let’s look at the first 20 laps of this 56-lap race. By the end of them, Hammer had opened up a gap of 6.924sec to Raikkonen, who ran pretty much directly behind him on the track for the whole 20, including a stop. Both cars were fuelled the same before and after the stops. In all but two of those laps, Hamilton opened up a larger gap on Raikkonen than the lap before. In the first nine laps, Hamilton was the fastest car on the track. Raikkonen had no answer. The Hammer’s lap sequence went like this:
1:40.107 – 1:37.332 – 1:37.081 – 1:37.265 – 1:36.940 – 1:36.792 – 1:36.846 – 1:36.807 – 1:36.683
Times coming down slightly as he burns off fuel. Very consistent and fast to build a gap of 4sec after these nine laps. On laps 10 and 11, Raikkonen hauled that gap back from 4.031 to 3.749, before Hamilton responded with nine faster laps than Kimi in a row, including in- and out-laps. Game over.
It’s interesting when you look at those in- and out-laps. Hamilton is blistering and it’s here he’s earning his money.
The Hammer’s in-lap – 1:41.473
The Iceman’s in-lap – 1:41.146
The Hammer’s out-lap – 2:03.283
The Iceman’s out-lap – 2:04.402
There it is, brutal, clear evidence, measured to thousandths – it’s the Hammer hammering Kimi’s head mercilessly into the asphalt. And when they get back into a rhythm again after the stops on a heavier load, Hamilton destroys The Iceman even further, with the following times on laps 18-20 (Kimi’s below):
1:37.608 1:37.553 1:37.639
1:37.952 1:37.794 1:37.677
So, thus ends our 20-lap study of how that seven-second gap was built, how the race was won. And probably how the championship was won. If Lewis doesn’t win the world championship this year in Brazil, it will be down to bad luck or mechanical failure, not driving skill. He proved his skill in these first 20 laps of Shanghai. He is an effing demon driver.