THREE RACES, TWO POINTS. ONE CHAMPION...
After a two-weekend hiatus at the end of the European season, the Formula One world championship resumes this weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit, in China. It is the first of three races in the space of four weekends as the title fight builds towards a thrilling conclusion: defending world champion Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) will be trying to extend a slender two-point advantage over arch-rival Michael Schumacher.
Alonso has happy memories of last season's corresponding fixture, where he scored a dominant victory to cement Renault's success in the world championship for constructors. One of the newest venues on the F1 calendar, Shanghai features some of the season's most striking architecture and teams appreciate the cutting-edge facilities. The circuit, which lies about 40 minutes from the bustling city centre, opened in 2004 and this year's race is only the third of its kind.
Alonso's victory in 2005 was not the only highlight for Michelin. The company took a clean sweep of the top eight positions and all seven of its partner teams scored points.
Nick Shorrock, Formula One director, Michelin:
"The Formula One world championships for drivers and constructors have been fiercely contested all season - and with three races to go both remain wide open. Michelin and its partner teams have been very busy during the past two weeks."
"In preparation for the forthcoming races in China and Japan, two radically different circuits that require a contrasting approach from our side, we have been testing new tyre evolutions at Jerez and Silverstone. In addition, we have also been doing further development work to improve our qualifying pace."
"This will be only the third F1 race at Shanghai and there have been different tyre regulations in force every time. Consequently we have had to work just as hard as we did in each of the two previous years to make sure we select appropriate products."
"Shanghai is a very distinctive track, with a couple of slow corners that seem to go on forever and two very long straights. At some points cars reach speeds well in excess of 300kph (186mph). Good traction is imperative for the twisty parts of the circuit, although tyres are subjected to fewer mechanical/thermal demands here than they are at some other venues."
"Michelin drivers have annexed five of six possible podium positions during the first two Chinese Grands Prix and we will be doing our utmost to maintain that proud record this year. The season might be drawing towards its conclusion, but our commitment remains absolute."
"With 3 races to go there is no letting up either at the front or with our other partners who have made excellent progress through the year. We are trying to give Renault a decisive advantage, but that's not all. We need to make sure BMW finish ahead of Toyota in the Constructors' Championship, and that Raikkonen and Fisichella beat Massa in the Drivers' standings."
Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team:
"I am feeling very optimistic for China, both in terms of the Renault package and the Michelin tyres. Michelin has been working very hard to improve and we saw in Monza that its tyres have good one-lap pace plus race consistency. Since then, the team has been testing and found even more developments so the picture is positive."
"China is a demandingcircuit for tyres, both in terms of the high speeds and heavy braking, but also because there are some very long corners. Front and rear tyres are both heavily loaded through Turns 1 and 13."
"But we were very quick in Shanghai last year and Michelin wasvery competitive in 2004, too. I know everybody at Clermont-Ferrand is working flat out and we are doing the same at Renault. I am confident we can succeed."