Alonso Takes Pole, Schumacher Salvages Sixth in Chinese GP Qualifying

September 30th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Alonso Takes Pole, Schumacher Salvages Sixth in Chinese GP Qualifying

With two points separating Formula One World Championship points leader Fernando Alonso from Michael Schumacher, F1 was looking for a shootout in Shanghai. Instead, Bridgestone brought a knife to the gunfight.

So the Michelin-shod Renaults walloped the field, and swept the front row. Michelin also claimed eleven out of the top twelve qualifying positions.

For Alonso, it was his first F1 pole since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, and a decisive one. He bested his Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella by over six tenths, and blasted Barrichello’s third-quick Honda by 1.2 seconds.

“It was a difficult qualifying session, very busy and very complicated for all the drivers, but the Michelin tyres were fantastic and gave us exactly what we needed to do the job,” said the dominating Spaniard. “Tomorrow, nothing is certain with the weather, but I am confident we can be competitive in both conditions. We haven't done much dry running yet this weekend, but from what we have seen, the car seems to be very competitive. If it is wet, we know we are quick – but also that many more things can happen.”

The defending World Champion can smell the blood in the water falling from the sky and is no longer racing for points. “I will stay focused, concentrate o­n doing a good race – and race for the win.”

But another key ingredient may have been overlooked during the day subject to weather.

The Renaults are running a new specification engine. The new evolution of the RS26 V8 gave both drivers increased power, much better straightline speeds, and most importantly the ‘driveability’ that is important in wet conditions.

Despite the impressive run by Alonso, maybe the real story of the day is that o­nce again, in a seemingly dreadful situation, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were able to overcome their handicap and make the most of the situation through extraordinary effort. Though seemingly in peril for most of the three qualifying sessions, Schumacher got the best out of his ailing Bridgestones. The final result was that he was able to land a spot in the final qualifying session, and then move the car into a respectable sixth-place starting slot.

Not bad for ‘poor ol’ Michael Schumacher’ considering his Scuderia teammate Felipe Massa could manage o­nly to get to thirteenth.

“We did the best we could in these conditions,” said Schumacher. “Our chances were damaged by the rain and sixth was the best I could do. You could call it a damage limitation operation.”

With just three races to go, Schumacher remained confident. “This qualifying session has not compromised my chances of winning the world championship. Apart from tomorrow’s race, there are still two Grands Prix to go and everything is still possible.”

Maybe so, but with the points race so close, a win by Alonso could go a long way towards winning his second title, and put even more pressure o­n a man who won’t be returning next season. These are Schumacher’s final races before retirement. He won’t get any second chances, and doesn’t have another season to look forward to. In that regard, the Ferrari’s Ross Brawn is hoping for a dry race o­n Sunday, “The weather forecast for tomorrow is for o­nly a slight chance of rain for the period of the race: honestly we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope it turns out to be accurate!”

With the two championship contenders separated by five cars, Alonso’s key to victory will be to get a clean start, and some help from his fellow competitors trailing behind. Fisichella must deliver, and keep Schumacher behind.

With an engine blow-up at the Italian Grand Prix, and three engine failures during test sessions since that race.... Alonso and Renault are hoping for exactly that scenario so that they can run stress free, and save the revs. Pumping them to their maximum could not o­nly cost Alonso the race, but the championship as well.

Renault's engine technical director, Rob White said it all earlier in the week, ''The pressure is o­n for both us and Ferrari, as any reliability problems at this stage of the season would be catastrophic.”

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