Schumacher wins in China and takes the championship lead

Michael Schumacher Chinese Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher takes the lead of the World Championship with his 91st career victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. The German is now level with his main championship rival, Fernando Alonso, with 116 points apiece.

This should have been Alonso’s race as he had the fastest car in the wet-dry conditions. At one point, the Spaniard was ahead of Michael as much as 25 seconds in the wet conditions earlier in the race. But during the first pit stop, Alonso had to change his front intermediates tyres, due to excessive wear on the left-front Michelin. The Renault team didn’t change the rear Michelins at all.

This was a bad mistake, as Alonso was now struggling with his combination of old tyres on the rear and new Michelins at the front. The Spaniard was now lapping the circuit three seconds slower than his previous pace… And his huge lead earlier on has evaporated.

Schumacher, who started the race in sixth, sensed the opportunity and was now directly behind the two Renaults of Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian tried to hold up the fastest Ferrari by protecting his struggling team-mate as much as he could. But in the end, Giancarlo had to take the lead as a way of preventing Ferrari and Michael scoring maximum points.

Alonso simply didn’t have any grip in his Renault R26 at this point and on lap 31, Michael overtook his main rival at turn 2 to take second place.

Renault called in the Spaniard for a much-needed pit stop but then suffered a further delay when changing the intermediates to groove (slick) Michelins. The right-rear wheel had cross-threaded and this cost the driver 11 seconds. Alonso had now dropped down to sixth and was now nearly 50 seconds behind the leading pair of Giancarlo and Michael…

At this stage of the Grand Prix, the track developed a dry line and the cars running on groove slick tyres were now setting fastest laptimes then the cars still on intermediates. Alonso who had changed his worn-out Michelin was now driving his R26 at an incredible pace. Determined to reduce the gap between himself and Michael.

Michael Schumacher was now in the lead of the Grand Prix after pitting one lap earlier than Giancarlo. Michael gained the track position when Giancarlo went off line at turn 1 after switching from intermediates to grooves. Michael even put two wheels on the grass as the Italian tried to hold onto his position after exiting the pits… But it was too late as Michael took the lead on lap 42 and went on to win the race.

Alonso reduced the gap in those last few laps to finished 3.1 seconds behind his main rival. The Spaniard must be disappointed as he had the fastest car on the day – in any conditions – and he should have won the race without any problems. But the end result was that Michael Schumacher won and this means the two main rivals are now tie with 116 points as we head to the last two races of the season.

Giancarlo Fisichella finished in third behind his team-mate, but Renault must be feeling frustrated by this result. After dominating qualifying, a one-two finish would have been the perfect opportunity to claim back the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. Even Renault’s Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds, said it was “no excuses” not to win the Chinese Grand Prix.

“We are making no excuses today,” said Symonds. “This is a race we should have won, because the Renault and its Michelin tyres were dominant in all conditions.

“The fact we did not do so is intensely frustrating for the entire team.”

I have to agree. Renault had the fastest car in the dry and wet conditions but still managed to get beaten by Michael and Ferrari. As a small consolidation, the French manufacturer is now ahead of the Italian team by one point in the Constructors’ standings (179 points to 178 points).

Despite the setback, Alonso remains confident for the following race, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, in a week’s time (October 8th).

“So it was a bad day, but this is a fantastic fight for the championship, and I go to Japan feeling really confident,” he said.

“We had the quickest car today, and we have two more good chances to win.

“I believe we can do it.

“In wet conditions we were much quicker and in dry also as well because of our times on Friday. But I am confident for the last two races,” he added.

“It doesn’t matter which feeling you have inside, the winner is Michael and he deserved the victory because he came in front of the other drivers.”

As for Michael, he can’t believe his luck after being disadvantage in the wet conditions in the earlier stages of the race. As the track dried out, the German hauled himself into contention and then capitalised on a tactical miscue and a botched pit stop for his arch-rival to score his 91st career win.

“I am so happy!” exclaimed the 37-year-old, who is aiming for an eighth world title before he retires from the sport at the end of the season.

“After the start, I was surprised to find that I could match the pace of those ahead of me, which was better than I had expected.

“After a while, I was able to close up on [Giancarlo] Fisichella.

“I thought that if I could pass him, even if I could not win, then at least I would only lose two points to Fernando and given where I started that would have been a good result.”

Michael’s fifth win in seven races has significantly reduced the championship lead to Alonso, when at one stage it was a gap of 25 points…

And with seven wins to his name compared to Alonso’s six. It is the German who has the upper hand with two races remaining.

“Looking back some while ago, it is quite a miracle that we are there,” Schumacher said of his comeback.

“But thanks to great work from everybody we managed it and we go to the last two races [with a strong chance of winning the title].

“Now we go to Suzuka, a track that I love.

“But it is difficult to make any predictions and as usual, tyre performance will be crucial.”

Indeed it will be, the Suzuka track is also the home race of Bridgestone. Can the Japanese tyre manufacturer provide a good compound for the potential 2006 champion in a week’s time?

Can Renault fight back? It has to if Alonso and the team want to win this year’s championship. No more excuses and mistakes. Let the battle commence!

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