"Poor old Michael?" Don't think so!


"Three races, two points… one title"… thus reads the sales pitch.

Ignoring the hyperbole, all one has to know about today's Chinese Grand Prix is that, with less than hour before the race gets underway, it's wet. It's not raining at this very moment, but it has bee raining and consequently the track remains wet.

Therefore as far as the World Championship is concerned, it looks good for Fernando, while Michael can only hope to limit the damage as much as possible.

We saw yesterday, in qualifying, that Michelin are the true rainmasters, and only a heroic effort by the German got the Ferrari into the top six on the grid, the next highest Bridgestone qualifier being Massa, who could only manage 13th.

If it rains again, then we can expect Fernando to take a fairly comfortable win, for he was head and shoulders above the rest yesterday. Renault has opted for reliability over speed/power, therefore there shouldn't be a repeat of Monza.

Then again, if it remains 'as is', whereby the weather is undecided, just a little damp, with the track gradually drying, then we could be in for a good scrap.

There are quite a few drivers out there who could make a good impression today, and, in the right circumstances take a win, however, this is about the World Championship title, and it is also about the weather, which as this stage is undecided.

Two hours before the start, Bob Constanduros writes: "It's really peeing down and the humidity is 92 per cent with a couple of hours to go before the start. At this rate, it will be a safety car start. Track temperature is 21 degrees as is air temperature."

With just over half an hour to go, he adds: "Track temperature and ambient is 21 degrees, humidity inching up to 92 making drying very difficult, even though it's not raining now, but still very overcast."

With regards the safety car, there is talk that the race could start behind it, even if it is not raining, which - in our humble opinion - would be taking things a little too far. Then again, we're not the ones driving these cars.

With twenty-five minutes to go, the cars start to leave the pits. Over the radio, Barrichello, who is crawling round, says: "It will be quite easy to choose a tyre", though he doesn't add whether it should be intermediate or full wet. Michael waits in the Ferrari garage, watching… and possibly listening.

The German leaves the pits and proceeds to give the team feedbacks as he makes his way round the Shanghai track.

The strong wind should help a little when it comes to drying the track, however, the thick blanket of clouds that hangs over the circuit suggests we are in for more rain.

Let's not forget that Michael has had two miserable visits to China, could this be the third?

By the way, in case you haven't been following the news on Pitpass - and if not, why not? - after various penalties, Albers starts 22nd, Sato 21st and Massa 20th.

Renault's Pat Symonds look confident, and when it's pointed out that Michael has two brand new sets of intermediates, he responds; "but they're Bridgestones". Point taken Pat, point taken.

Other than that, nobody is giving anything away, we do not know who has opted for full wets and who has gone for 'inters'. The tyre blankets will remain wrapped around the tyres until the last possible moment.

Michael leaves the Ferrari garage and makes his way, on foot, to the grid, he looks confident… he looks very confident. Then again, maybe he's already looking ahead to Japan and Brazil.

With five minutes remaining, the air temperature is 22 degrees C, while the track temperature is also 22 degrees.

They head off on the warm-up lap, Alonso leading the way. Even at low speed, the 'rooster tails' are distinct, it's still quite wet out there.

Thing is, we're getting carried away, taking it for granted that Fernando has this one sewn up, whereas, all it needs is one little error, one tiny mistake, and, in these conditions, it's all over.

They're away. Alonso leads, with Fisichella slipping in behind, was Raikkonen charges his way up to challenge Button, both of them passing the hapless Barrichello. Kubica goes wide, but they all get through the first couple of corners in one piece.

On the back straight, Raikkonen passes Button, who is unable to respond - the Finn is on a charge.

At the end of lap one, it's Alonso, Fisichella, Raikkonen, Button, Barrichello, Michael, de la Rosa, Speed, Heidfeld and Liuzzi. Doornbos pits, which indicates there might have been an 'incident' somewhere on the first lap. Massa is up to sixteenth, from twentieth.

Fisichella is under pressure from Raikkonen, while Michael is now 9s down on the race leader, but hanging on to the back of his former teammate, Barrichello.

After 3 laps, Alonso leads by 5.3s, with Fisichella still under pressure from Raikkonen.

Speed and Liuzzi are running in eighth and tenth, sandwiching Heidfeld, the Toro Rossos looking good for a point of two, if conditions remain the same. Elsewhere, Kubica passes Rosberg to take thirteenth. Meanwhile, Webber is having a good scrap with his future teammate, David Coulthard.

The leading three are lapping at least half-a-second quicker than Button, who is, in turn, lapping almost a second quicker than Barrichello.

Webber gets past Coulthard, as Kubica also closes in on the Scot.

After seven laps, Alonso ease off, his lead now 7.8s, while Raikkonen appears to be having a 'breather', the gap to Fisichella up to 1.6s. Elsewhere, Massa goes wide, while trying to pass Ralf for sixteenth.

From out of nowhere, Michael goes quickest of all in the second sector - his pace allowing him to pass Barrichello. Alonso responds by going quickest in the final sector. The German is now 22s down on the race leader, but 6s down on Button. Remember, this is about damage limitation… Michael doesn't need to win, he just needs as many points as he can get.

As Massa passes Ralf (again), Coulthard is under pressure from Rosberg. The Scot is on a one-stop strategy, while many of his rivals are on two-stops. There's a real 'train' behind the Scot… Rosberg, Trulli, Massa and Ralf.

Michael takes 1.5s out of Button, as he closes to within 4.5s. Next time around he closes the gap to 2.7s. Meanwhile, Alonso maintains a 22s advantage over the Ferrari.

On lap 12, Alonso posts a new fastest lap (1:44.658), as Kimi finally passes Fisichella, the Finn going through on the inside of the Italian. Elsewhere, Sato spins as the Super Aguri's tangle.

Michael takes Button, the German now up to fourth, and 6.7s down on Fisichella. A fantastic performance, from a driver who feels it is time to retire. Ye Gods!

DC is still doing an amazing job, holding off Rosberg and the Toyotas. Massa however, has managed to pass the Scot and is heading off after Liuzzi.

Raikkonen posts a new fastest lap (1:44.094), as he closes to within 15.9s of Alonso. While Michael is now 5.2s down on third-placed Fisichella.

Button tells his crew that he has "no rear tread left", and opts to pit. Which raises the question, is this a problem unique to the Honda, and its set up, or are the other Michelin runners about to encounter problems. As Alonso goes wide, we appear to have the answer.

In one lap, the Spaniard has lost 4s.

At the end of lap 16, Kimi pits, rejoining in sixth, as Michael closes to within 2s of Fisichella.

It's Alonso, Fisichella and Michael as Barrichello pits at the end of lap 17. de la Rosa also pits. Interestingly, Barrichello didn't change tyres.

Kubica passes Button, who is clearly struggling, having already lost a place to de la Rosa.

Alonso, Fisichella, Michael, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Webber, Barrichello, de la Rosa, Kubica and Button.

Kimi is cruising, he has a problem, with the engine sounding awful. He pulls off track in the second sector, his race is over, the first retirement of the day.

While Alonso enjoys a 19.5s lead, Michael is all over Fisichella, the gap down to 0.6s. Meanwhile, Liuzzi has a big spin.

Once again, Barrichello is leading a 'train', this time it's de la Rosa and Kubica, as Button loses ninth to Massa. The Englishman is having a torrid time of it.

At the end of lap 21, Michael pits. 7.2s later the German heads down the pitlane, as Renault suffers a power failure on the pitwall, which won't help the French team's strategy. Flavio and Pat run back to the garage, where there is no power problem.

At the end of lap 22, it is Alonso that pits, the Spaniard taking on new inters at the front. Yamamoto also pits.

Kubica posts fastest lap of the race, the Pole crossing the line at 1:44.065.

At the end of lap 23, race leader Fisichella pits, as Kubica posts a new fastest lap (42.072).

We appear to be getting close to the point at which dry tyres might be the best option. Time will tell.

Alonso leads Fisichella, with Michael third, ahead of Heidfeld and Kubica, who pits. Barrichello therefore moves up to fifth, as the Pole is the first driver to switch to dry tyres. Speed and Ralf also pit.

It was a massive gamble by BMW, but in the early stages of the lap he is clearly struggling. Elsewhere, Heidfeld also pits, as Kubica spins twice, the second time he almost goes into the tyre wall, and returns to the pits. A brave gamble but far too early.

Coulthard and Doornbos goes go quickest in different sectors.

After 26 laps, Alonso leads Fisichella by 3s, with Michael a further 0.6s down the road. The Spaniard's last lap was 4s off the pace. The tyre strategy clearly hasn't worked.

Behind the leading three - where the order is about to change - Barrichello is fourth, ahead of Massa, Heidfeld, de la Rosa, Coulthard, Button and Webber. Though Massa and Coulthard have still to stop.

Though he's losing heaps of time, Alonso maintains the lead, as Fisichella holds off the charging Ferrari. The Spaniard finally yields to the second Renault, and sets about holding off Michael, allowing Fisichella to build up a lead. That's easier said than down however, as Fernando's tyres are 'shot'.

At the end of lap 29, Massa and Coulthard both pit.

The leading three are separated by 0.8s, but Michael is loathe to go off line. That said, Michael nails his title in the series of twisty turns at the end of the main straight. The Spaniard tries to regain position, but his Michelins have nothing to give.

Fisichella leads by 1.4s, with Alonso losing more than 3s a lap. It has all fallen apart for the World Champion.

Behind the leading three, it's Barrichello, Heidfeld, de la Rosa, Button, Webber, Massa and Liuzzi. Coulthard is eleventh, ahead of Doornbos, Rosberg, Speed, Sato, Kubica, Ralf, Monteiro, Trulli, Albers and Yamamoto. Raikkonen remains the only retirement.

As Fisichella posts a new fastest lap (41.960), Rosberg is told that next time around he will stop for 'slicks'. Meanwhile, de la Rosa posts 1:41.690, as Ralf goes quickest in the second sector.

Button, Webber and Massa all pit, as Michael posts a new fastest lap (40.997).

Alonso pits but it's a disaster. The right rear is cross threaded, costing the Renault driver vital seconds. He leaves the pits but struggles as the Michelins are still not warm enough. All of this plays into his rival's hands.

de la Rosa pits, as Alonso slips to sixth, 53s down on the race leader, Fisichella, such was the damage done by that pitstop… not to mention the tyre choice at the first stop.

It's now between Fisichella and Michael, the two separated by just one second. Elsewhere, de la Rosa spins.

Ralf posts a new fastest lap (40.936), though he's running in sixteenth. Elsewhere, Barrichello pits.

The Ferrari crew waits in the pitlane, but Michael chooses to continue, not wanting to lose sight of his prey.

The race is over for Monteiro, who spins off. Now, could this mean the appearance of the safety car, which would, of course, benefit Alonso?

At the end of lap 40, Michael pits, as Ralf posts another fastest lap (40.342). Dry tyres and a little adjustment to the front wing for the German. Heidfeld and Trulli also pit, as Massa spins.

At the end of lap 41, Fisichella pits, emerging 6.6s later. The Italian takes forever to get going and Michael isn't known for taking prisoners, he wastes no time in nailing the Renault driver and thereby taking the lead.

Three weeks ago he announced that he is retiring, yet he remains as remorseless and motivated as ever. One wonders if it shouldn't be Fisichella that hangs up his helmet.

Massa posts a new fastest lap, but it is immediately beaten by Alonso, who is clearly back on the boil. The Spaniard crosses the line at 1:39.400.

"Close him down and kill him", is the message that Barrichello receives over the radio, the victim in question being Nick Heidfeld. Honda is taking this F1 game just a little too seriously.

After 43 laps, Michael leads Fisichella by 10s, with Alonso a further 11.7s down the road. The Spaniard taking around a second a lap out of the German. Heidfeld is fourth, ahead of 'killer' Barrichello, with Button sixth, ahead of de la Rosa, Coulthard, Massa and Webber.

Alonso is really pushing, posting another fastest lap (38.525), the deficit to Schumacher now 'down' to 19.2s. Trulli has retired, while Massa's race is also over, the Brazilian falling off the track due to a loose wheel. Ah ha, a replay shows that the Ferrari driver collided with Coulthard, as they fought for eighth place.

As Alonso posts another fastest lap, Barrichello and Button are enjoying a great scrap for fifth. Michael is lapping around 1.4s a lap slower than the Spaniard.

As Alonso prepares to pass his Renault teammate, Michael goes quickest in the second sector, going on to post his own fastest lap of the race. The Spaniard gets past his teammate and sets off after his great rival, who is 13.7s down the road.

Coulthard goes wide at the hairpin, spins and lets eighth place slip through his fingers, advantage Webber. Meanwhile, another Brit has an off, as Button goes well wide, much to the relief of Barrichello.

The order appears to have settled, with no real battles going on, other than Alonso's pursuit of his title rival.

A lousy day for Toyota as Ralf Schumacher drives into his garage.

With 7 laps remaining, Alonso eases off, just a little, the gap down to 11.7s.

On the pitwall, the Renault and Honda crew stick out their hands, could a last minute rain shower give this race yet another twist?

Michael, Alonso, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Barrichello, de la Rosa, Button, Webber, Coulthard and Liuzzi.

Button continues to pursue de la Rosa, as Alonso closes to within 8.8s of Michael. Elsewhere, Scott Speed spins but retains fifteenth place.

Michael and Alonso are now on the same straight, as the Spaniard closes the gap to 7.8s.

Button passes de la Rosa to take sixth, as spots of rain begin to fall.

Alonso closes the gap to 6.6s, but is now struggling as a light rain continues to fall. However, rain or no rain, Button hasn't finished, and passes Barrichello to take fifth.

As Michael takes the flag, 3.1s clear of Alonso, there is a titanic battle going on behind, with Button, Barrichello and de la Rosa all closing in on Nick Heidfeld, who is stuck behind Sato.

The Japanese driver appear to hold up Heidfeld, which plays into the hands of Button who makes his move. Behind the Englishman there's a tangle, as Heidfeld is clouted, putting him in a spin. De la Rosa nips through to take fifth, while Barrichello takes sixth. Poor Heidfeld is demoted to seventh, despite a strong drive. It will be interesting to see how BMW, indeed the stewards react, for Sato - in the Super Aguri-Honda - clearly held up the German, to the advantage of Button and Barrichello, both in Hondas.

That shouldn't take away from the main focus of today's race however, where Michael and Ferrari took full advantage of Fernando's problems, what with the strange tyre choice at the first stop and the wheel nut at the second.

We began the day claiming that it was almost a foregone conclusion, we were wrong. In addition to a tantalising battle, we also have the title fight(s) still raging.

The title cannot be won in Japan, therefore we have the prospect - for the first time in quite a few years - of the fight going all the way down to the wire.

Fisichella continues to frustrate, however, Fernando Alonso is clearly as motivated and remorseless as the man he is fighting for the title.

As for Michael, he is as motivated and capable as ever, and one finds it impossible to believe that he won't be here next season. His celebrations, post-race, were amongst the most enthusiastic we've seen - certainly not what one would expect from a sportsman nearing the end of his career.

"Poor old Michael?" Don't think so!

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Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 01/10/2006
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