2006 Chinese Grand Prix

An entertaining race, well worth getting up at 6am for. Even if it’s zombified me for the rest of the day. It seemed as though Renault were going to walk away with it today. With the changeable conditions, the Michelins were clearly coping better in the wet.

At least that was the case in qualifying. You could literally have split the running order in two — the top half was of Michelin runners, the backmarkers were all on Bridgestones. The only person to spoil it was Michael Schumacher who incredibly qualified his car in 6th. The next Bridgestone runner was his team mate Felipe Massa way back in 13th. Imagine if everybody was on the same tyres! Schumacher would have completely blitzed the field.

So the buildup to the race this morning went pretty much along the lines of, ‘Schumacher is great. Just a shame his tyres are useless.’ James Allen said that somebody up there was being kind to Fernando Alonso this weekend. Well today that person up there must have decided that he was too kind yesterday, and conspired to give Alonso the lion’s share of bad luck in the race.

It looked good to start off with. Alonso was absolutely supreme in the first corner, as was Kimi Räikkönen. Alonso built up a big lead in the first stint, but problems came after his first pitstop. The front tyres needed changing, but they kept the old rear tyres on. It seemed like a strange decision, and it turned out to be the wrong one indeed as Alonso’s lead was cut to zero before he had to relent to Giancarlo Fisichella and Schumacher.

It wasn’t over for Alonso though. On a decent set of tyres he was still the fastest driver. But during his pitstop where he changed to dry tyres a wheel nut got stuck, adding at least 10 seconds to his time. Were it not for that, Alonso could well have won.

As it was, Schumacher was able to take the victory. The first lap out on dry tyres was clearly crucial. The track was still damp and cold in spots, and we clearly saw that those who fully committed — Alonso, Schumacher — benefited. Meanwhile drivers who tentatively tiptoed out of the pits — Fisichella, Kubica (who changed to dries too early anyway) — lost ground big time. Schumacher’s move on Fisichella into turn 1 on Fisi’s out lap was outstanding.

It was a weekend of good drives. Not only had Schumacher and Alonso excelled themselves, but Jenson Button also shone in the final phase of the race with the drying track. After a little off where he lost a place to Pedro de la Rosa, Button came back in the final laps to spectacularly climb his way up to 4th which culminated in an amazing scrap at the penultimate corner of the race.

Six cars into one corner doesn’t go. But Button drove smartly to take Barrichello, then Heidfeld. The latter two were both disadvantaged by the traffic, and de la Rosa was able to take 5th. Takuma Sato was subsequently disqualified for “blocking faster drivers”. Yes, it’s funny how his presence benefited his pseudo-team mate Button. But Sato’s team mate, Sakon Yamamoto, can congratulate himself for finally finishing a race for the first time!

As for the tyre war, during the race it seemed as though the Michelins weren’t quite as dominant as they were in qualifying. Looking at the results, I am no longer so sure. The only Bridgestone runners to get a decent result were Schumacher and Mark Webber (who scored an increasingly rare point for Williams).

Schumacher’s team mate, Massa, had a torrid race which culminated in a clumsy crash with David Coulthard. I am now absolutely convinced that Michael Schumacher drove out of his skin today. He was ecstatic at the end of the race. He obviously desperately wants to end his career on a high.

But Alonso will also be determined to win the Championship this year. He must be looking on at his future team, McLaren, with trepidation. Räikkönen’s car failed yet again today. Reliability is still a major problem for McLaren. This could be Alonso’s last chance to win the Championship for a while.

Anyway, today’s result leaves Schumacher and Alonso tied at the top with 116 points each. But officially Schumacher leads the championship because he’s won more races. Contrary to what most people are saying, the championship is not guaranteed to go down to the wire.

If Alonso fails to score and Schumacher wins in Japan, Schumi’s lead will be unassailable. Even though Alonso could win in Brazil to level the scoring again, Schumacher would still win the championship because he has won more races this year. That would be the closest championship in history. It’s certainly a pleasure to be watching it, even at silly o’clock.

Full race result

Update: F1 Fanatic Keith Collantine points out:

Fernando Alonso would be leading this year’s championship by 15 points if it weren’t for the man who changes his right-rear wheel.

7 comments

  1. even IF the wheel nut went on properly, Alonso still lost out with the new front tires, which they would have done anyway, AND lost out going on to slicks 2 laps too soon!

    Essentially, it should have been kimis race

  2. I don’t think that’s so because Alonso was amazing in the last stint aswell. In the dry Renault had a clear advantage. Alonso lost about 10 seconds in the pitstop, but he finished only 3 seconds behind Michael Schumacher at the chequered flag.

  3. Now, I only saw the race, and therefore Jenson’s final corner heroics, once, but it seemed to me as thought Jenson forced Heidfeld into a position where he would be blocked by Sato and therefore Jenson should be getting the praise for forcing the block instead of Sato being penalised for having nowhere to go.

    I do agree that the wheel nut lost Alonso the race, and I am thankful it did. Schumachers last season should be his best. Best for the audience at least.

  4. Ah Button, there’s a man with an ego greater than his driving skills. I quite liked him for the first couple of seasons he raced, but now he and his beard annoy me somewhat. At least he’s managed to win a race at least. Give him another 5 years and he might beat Johny Herbert’s record for wins.

  5. I am a man with an ego greater than my driving skills. Jenson, on the other hand, seems to be fairly down to earth to me, at least he does now that he has got the whole playboy thing out of his system.

    Future champion in my book.