Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher mastered changeable weather conditions and outfoxed the Renault duo of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella to win the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday.
Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher mastered changeable weather conditions and outfoxed the Renault duo of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella to win the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday. The sensational victory allowed the soon-to-be-retired seven-time world champion to take the lead of the driver’s world championship for the first time this season with only two races to run.
Schumi seemed on the back foot on Saturday – he only managed to post the sixth-fastest time after narrowly avoiding the drop at the end of the second part of the qualifying session. However, Renault lost the initiative to Ferrari in the race when the team fitted new intermediate tyres to Fernando Alonso’s car and the Spaniard also lost crucial time during the second stop due to a jammed right rear wheel nut.
The German passed Fisichella for the lead after their final stops and Alonso fought back to second place. Jenson Button took fourth place by passing his Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello and BMW’s Nick Heidfeld on the final lap.
Barrichello and Heidfeld made contact, and slipped to sixth and seventh places behind McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa. Williams’ Mark Webber finished eighth.
Schumacher’s win puts him level on points with Alonso, but he is leading the championship by virtue of having one more win. Since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, Schumacher has eroded Alonso’s once 25-point lead to nothing.
“It’s been an exciting and extreme weekend,” said Schumacher. “We found the right moment to change to dry tyres and luckily we had enough of a gap to drive safely home.
“I went into the race today with the motto of ‘damage limitation’. That I was able to get the victory makes it all the more beautiful,” he added.
Starting from pole position, Alonso streaked away into the lead at the start of the race on a wet track and quickly built a huge advantage. He was soon more than 20 seconds ahead of Schumacher, who started sixth and took his time to settle into the race and pass the Hondas of Barrichello and Button.
Schumacher was in third place and closely trailing Fisichella by the time of the first pit stops, which was when Renault made its mistake. The track was drying out very slowly, but Alonso’s intermediate tyres were clearly losing grip.
The Enstone-based team put new front intermediate tyres on Alonso’s R26, but did not change the rears. That left Alonso with a catastrophic lack of front grip, and Fisichella and Schumacher immediately closed in on him.
Fisichella tried to hold off Schumacher for a couple of laps, but with Alonso as much as four seconds off the pace Renault decided to let the Italian by into the lead.
Alonso could do nothing to hold off the German.
Renault then made the decision to bring Alonso in for dry-weather tyres five laps earlier than Schumacher (lap 35). Alonso still could have won at that point, but a sticking wheel nut cost him more than 10 secs – and any chance of victory.
The stop was also probably a lap or two too early, and by the time the Spaniard’s tyres were up to working temperature he was already 50 seconds behind the leaders and out of the battle for victory.
Fisichella stopped for dry tyres a lap later than Schumacher and made it out of the pits just ahead of the Ferrari, but with the track still slippery and his tyres not up to temperature, Schumacher passed him for the lead at the first corner.
By that time, Alonso was easily the fastest man on the track, but was more than 20 seconds behind Schumacher and 10 behind Fisichella. The Spaniard caught and passed his team-mate several laps before the end, but although he closed in on Schumi – often at more than a second a lap – he had to settle for second.
“We lost a big opportunity,” said Alonso. “There were nine or 10 laps when I was completely off the pace and I think the race finished there. We tried to put on the dry tyres to find the miracle but it was too late.”
Results for the Chinese Grand Prix
1. M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari
2. F Alonso (Spa) Renault +3,121 secs
3. G Fisichella (Ita) Renault +44,197
4. J Button (GB) Honda +1:12,056
5. P de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren +1:17,137
6. R Barrichello (Brz) Honda +1:19,131
7. N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW +1:31,979
8. M Webber (Aus) Williams +1:43,588
9. D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull +1:43,796
10. V Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso 1 lap behind
11. N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1 lap
12. R Doornbos (Ned) Red Bull 1 lap
13. R Kubica (Pol) BMW 1 lap
14. S Speed (US) Toro Rosso 1 lap
15. C Albers (Ned) MF1-Toyota 3 laps
16. S Yamamoto (Jpn) Super Aguri 4 laps
DNF R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota
DNF F Massa (Brz) Ferrari
DNF J Trulli (Ita) Toyota
DNF T Monteiro (Por) MF1 37 laps
DNF K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren
DQ Takumo Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri