At 3pm on the Thursday of each grand prix weekend the FIA holds a press conference, usually featuring drivers who hail from the host country or those whom for whatever reason attendance is deemed newsworthy. Shanghai’s offering was firmly in the latter of the two categories.
As Räikkönen, Alonso, Hamilton and Kubica took to the stage an expectant air filled the room – and no one would be disappointed.
After the obligatory ‘friendly’ questions had been answered, the British press went to work with probing questions about events at Fuji the week before, the superstardom of Hamilton, and the chase for the championship.
Lewis seemed nervous, Kimi unconcerned, Robert noncommittal (as usual), and Fernando as cocksure as one could ever hope to be.
Alonso is one of the few F1 drivers who will speak his mind – contrast his often witty and occasionally funny answers with those of his chief oppo Kubica, for instance – but on this afternoon one was acutely aware of the playground-like bullying tactics Alonso directed at his English nemesis.
This was a tough 20 minutes for Hamilton – hell, even the seating positions served to intensify the pressure on him – but he did just about as well as he could’ve hoped. He stayed calm, focusing on concise answers, and, most importantly, not getting sucked in to the Spaniard’s game plan.
Following this uncomfortable (and to be honest almost embarrassing in top-level sport) charade, the press pack wondered at the McLaren man’s resolve and just how he would respond.
Well, what a response it was, one of the most crushing weekend-long performances by a Formula 1 driver in recent times. Stunningly fast and with not a wheel out of line, Lewis put all others in the shade.
From my privileged trackside position it was acutely obvious just how fired up the champion-elect was. He drove beautifully all weekend, so much so in fact that the race will go down as one of the dullest of the season.
Quite how one can find a top sportsman performing to the very pinnacle of his abilities dull, though, is and always has been beyond me.
Scrutinising the grandstands of this admittedly impressive facility through the perpetual haze of smog, one can never be sure how many of their expectorating inhabitants are genuine race fans or random citizens bussed in to make up the numbers.
F1 now decamps to a similarly polluted but far more welcoming city for the season finale. The good folk of São Paolo always look forward to their grand prix with feverish excitement – which is why rough-around-the-edges Interlagos will be on the F1 calendar long after Shanghai International Circuit has subsided, unlamented, into the swamp it’s built on.
Please now take a few of minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2008 Chinese grand prix by clicking on the Formula 1 link above.