Tom Clarkson's 2008 Chinese Grand Prix preview

Published: 17 October 2008

How much more can Lewis Hamilton take? After his recent penalties at Spa-Francorchamps and Fuji Speedway, the perceived wisdom in the Formula 1 paddock is that Lewis no longer knows what’s permissible on the racetrack. Where are the boundaries; is it possible for him to avoid the wrath of the stewards?

Since arriving in Shanghai on Tuesday, he’s been under constant scrutiny. The Brazilian media has been on his case about last year’s Chinese Grand Prix, which ended ignominiously in the pitlane gravel trap; he’s been ostracised by his closest rivals (Fernando Alonso, unsurprisingly, the leader of the gang) and the British tabloids have misquoted Mark Webber in an effort to sensationalise a story about Lewis’s (lack of) driving standards.

Lewis Hamilton at the Chinese Grand Prix: the pressure's on

How this criticism affects Hamilton's judgment during Sunday’s race will influence the outcome of the 2008 F1 World Championship. Some people think he’ll rise above it; some, like Flavio Briatore, think he’ll crumble. I have no such fears; I’m convinced that we’ll see a marked difference in Lewis compared to 2007, when he threw away a 17-point advantage in the final two races.

Lewis Hamilton 2008-spec is a much calmer, more mature person than he was a year ago; he’s better able to turn the negative energy directed at him into a source of motivation. Perhaps he’s already proved as much this weekend by setting comfortably the fastest times in both of Friday’s practice sessions.

His closest title rival, Felipe Massa, will run him close during qualifying and the race because the Ferrari F2008 is a match for the McLaren MP4-23 around here. But Lewis has a five-point advantage; it can be his title if he let’s his natural instincts see him through.
CAR's Andy Franklin isn't so sure. Click here to read his counter-point

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller