Schumacher ties Alonso with China win

Michael Schumacher delivered one of his most dazzling virtuoso drives on Sunday to win the Chinese Grand Prix and move within reach of his eighth drivers' championship

Schumacher ties Alonso with China win

The 37-year-old German, in his Ferrari, overcame the challenge of wet and dry conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit to triumph in a stirring and dramatic race after starting from sixth on the grid.

His title rival, defending champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso, of Renault, started from pole, led for 30 laps but ended up finishing second after being beset by tyre problems.

Alonso's Renault teammate Italian Giancarlo Fisichella finished third, but like Alonso was overshadowed by Schumacher.

His Ferrari teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa failed to finish after a late collision with David Coulthard, an error that cost his team top place in the constructors' championship.

It was Schumacher's first win in China after two poor results, his fifth win in seven races and arguably the most important of the year.

His win meant he moved up to 116 points in the title race level with Alonso, but leads the championship by having won seven races to the Spaniard's six.

Briton Jenson Button profited from chaos on the final lap to finish fourth for Honda ahead of Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in the second Honda, German Nick Heidfeld in a BMW Sauber and Australian Mark Webber, who was eighth for Williams.

After another morning of steady drizzle and intermittent heavy rain, the build-up to the race was overshadowed by conjecture about the relative performance of the tyres in such wet conditions.

One Bridgestone spokesperson said that their tyres, as supplied to Ferrari, were excellent in all conditions, but precisely the kind of consistent wet conditions that had left thousands of spectators sitting in sodden misery waiting for the race.

It was clear that Michelin, the tyre suppliers to Renault, Honda and McLaren would have the upper hand if the rain continued as it did.

At the start, after an uneventful formation lap, Alonso pulled clear with Fisichella following him away from the grid. Raikkonen, as expected, retained fourth place ahead of the two Hondas and then Schumacher in sixth.

The track temperature and the air temperature were both 22 degrees Celsius, it was overcast, wet and miserable and the prevailing conditions signalled that Alonso had a perfect opportunity to re-open a commanding lead in the drivers' championship race.

After three laps he was 5.3 seconds ahead of Fisichella and 11.5 ahead of Schumacher and by end of the 10th, of the 56 scheduled, he was 11.5 ahead of his teammate and held an advantage of 22.3 on his championship rival, who had climbed to fifth.

Schumacher passed Barrichello on lap nine, shortly after his Ferrari teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa had taken an unscheduled exit off the circuit and across some grass before rejoining the fray in his efforts to move up the field from 20th.

Alonso reeled off five fastest laps in the opening 14, during which there was a flurry of activity behind him on lap 13 when Schumacher, having passed Barrichello, found his way past Briton Jenson Button in the other Honda to take fourth place.

It was difficult to confirm that the circuit was drying in the misty conditions, but as Raikkonen passed Fisichella on the same lap it certainly seemed as if the track was offering more to the cars.

When Alonso clocked a fastest lap on lap 14, Raikkonen surpassed him with an even quicker effort. A lap later, the Spaniard led by 15 seconds with Raikkonen in pursuit as Button pitted first, soon followed by the Finn.

Raikkonen's race ended, however, just three laps later when he retired with a mechanical problem at turn nine. Two laps later, at the end of lap 21, Schumacher came in and refuelled but did not change tyres and a lap later he was followed in to the pits by Alonso, who did.

A dry line was by now appearing on parts of the track as Fisichella led for a lap and then pitted to be followed by Robert Kubica who had risen to fifth and clocked a fastest lap on lap 23.

Once all the leaders had stopped once, Alonso had an advantage at the front of 9.8 seconds on Fisichella who was in turn only 1.2 seconds ahead of Schumacher. The Ferrari man was clearly gaining ground.

Kubica went off, regained the track and half-spun off again. He collected grass, mud and debris and then pitted, in the process braking late and almost colliding with some of his pit-crew who were forced to take diving, emergency avoiding action.

By lap 28, Fisichella had closed the gap at the front to 0.4 seconds and Schumacher was on his tail - the chase for a decisive blow in the championship was truly on.

At one point on lap 29, Fisichella attempted to pass a clearly ailing Alonso. who held him off and the two Renaults were not to change places until lap 30 when almost immediately, on lap 31, Schumacher passed Alonso on the inside to take second.
 
With Barrichello a further 22 seconds adrift in fourth place for Honda, this meant the front three were now effectively in a private scrap for title places and points.
 
Schumacher and Ferrari were clearly revelling in the half-dry conditions and the seven-time champion was in his element, his courage and skill beyond all doubt.

The dry line grew, as did Fisichella's lead to 2.6 seconds, but Alonso was unable to cope and dropped 7.7 seconds behind Schumacher in third place. The German knew this was enough to put him level on points with two races to go.

In the changing and unpredictable conditions, Schumacher clocked a fastest lap when he became the first man under 1:41 after 35 laps and then Alonso pitted again, apparently for dry tyres.

This cost him places and time. He fell to sixth and was 53.7 seconds off the leader, Fisichella, while Schumacher sat one second behind him in second running on his original set of tyres.

Schumacher finally made his second pitstop and first for new tyres, when he switched to a dry set, after 40 laps. One lap later, Fisichella did the same, but it was costly and as he exited the pitlane, struggling for control, Schumacher swept past him on the inside to take the lead on lap 42.

Alonso gave chase with the fastest lap, but Schumacher led Fisichella by 7.6 seconds and Alonso by 23 as they began lap 43. Alonso lapped fast and closed the gap, passed Fisichella eventually and then ran second in vain pursuit to the finish as rain began to fall again.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The Chinese Grand Prix Shanghai International Circuit, China; 56 laps; 305.256km; Weather: Damp. Classified: Pos Driver Team Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h37:32.747 2. Alonso Renault (M) + 3.121 3. Fisichella Renault (M) + 44.197 4. Button Honda (M) + 1:12.056 5. de la Rosa McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 1:17.177 6. Barrichello Honda (M) + 1:19.131 7. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (M) + 1:31.979 8. Webber Williams-Cosworth (B) + 1:43.588 9. Coulthard Red Bull-Ferrari (M) + 1:43.790 10. Liuzzi Toro Rosso-Cosworth (M) + 1 lap 11. Rosberg Williams-Cosworth (B) + 1 lap 12. Doornbos Red Bull-Ferrari (M) + 1 lap 13. Kubica BMW-Sauber (M) + 1 lap 14. Sato Super Aguri-Honda (B) + 1 lap 15. Speed Toro Rosso-Cosworth (M) + 1 lap 16. Albers Spyker MF1-Toyota (B) + 3 laps 17. Yamamoto Super Aguri-Honda (B) + 4 laps Fastest lap: Alonso, 1:37.586 Not classified/retirements: Driver Team On lap R.Schumacher Toyota (B) 50 Massa Ferrari (B) 47 Trulli Toyota (B) 39 Monteiro Spyker MF1-Toyota (B) 38 Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) 19 World Championship standings, round 17: Drivers: Constructors:  1. M.Schumacher 116 1. Renault 179 2. Alonso 116 2. Ferrari 178 3. Fisichella 63 3. McLaren-Mercedes 101 4. Massa 62 4. Honda 73 5. Raikkonen 57 5. BMW-Sauber 35 6. Button 45 6. Toyota 30 7. Barrichello 28 7. Red Bull-Ferrari 16 8. Montoya 26 8. Williams-Cosworth 11 9. Heidfeld 22 9. Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1 10. de la Rosa 18 11. R.Schumacher 18 12. Coulthard 14 13. Trulli 12 14. Webber 7 15. Villeneuve 7 16. Kubica 6 17. Rosberg 4 18. Klien 2 19. Liuzzi 1 All timing unofficial 
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