Rubens Barrichello followed up his second consecutive pole position with his second consecutive win at the Chinese Grand Prix. The Ferrari man led from pole to flag, aside from the pit stop shuffles, and BAR's Jenson Button put his two-stop...
Rubens Barrichello followed up his second consecutive pole position with his second consecutive win at the Chinese Grand Prix. The Ferrari man led from pole to flag, aside from the pit stop shuffles, and BAR's Jenson Button put his two-stop strategy to good use and beat McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen to second. Raikkonen fought hard but had to settle for third.
It was a fairly active race with quite a lot of track action. There were no major incidents, although one or two minor ones resulted in retirees. For once Michael Schumacher couldn't do his charge from back of the grid to front and finished 12th.
Relegated to the back after his abortive qualifying, Michael elected to start from the pit lane. Barrichello led from the start, with Raikkonen in pursuit, and Renault's Fernando Alonso had his customary leap off the line to go up to third from sixth. He tussled with fourth starting Felipe Massa and the Sauber dropped back, allowing Button into fourth.
However, Massa wasn't having that and fought back to reclaim the position in a good show of driving. Sauber teammate Giancarlo Fisichella moved up one from seventh to sixth and BAR's Takuma Sato went from the back to 14th on the first lap. Ricardo Zonta also improved in the Toyota, from 13th to ninth.
Losers at the start were Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya, who dropped a couple of places to 12th, and Toyota's Olivier Panis who went from eighth to way down the back. Button set about harassing Massa and the young Brazilian held him off for a while but eventually Button got the upper hand to regain fourth.
Massa suffered badly early on with graining on his tyres and was steadily losing ground. Ralf Schumacher, who had dropped behind Giancarlo Fisichella, was having a go at the Italian, who was in turn homing on his teammate Massa. Down the long straight they closed and Massa succumbed to both at the last corner.
Coulthard decided to try his luck on the struggling Massa and there was nearly contact but they both escaped unscathed. A few corners later Coulthard had another go and made it stick and Zonta got past Massa as well. So the Brazilian dropped to ninth within a few laps and was probably very relieved when he dived in for his first stop on lap 11.
At the front, Button was homing in on Alonso and snatched third at the last corner. Alonso attacked back but Button wasn't about to relinquish the place. Further down the field Montoya was battling with Renault's Jacques Villeneuve and Michael was strangely subdued in only 17th. He was surely on a heavy fuel load but one would have thought he would have made up more places by then.
Gianmaria Bruni was coasting early on with what looked like a right rear puncture on the Minardi and Jaguar's Christian Klien was next to come to grief. Michael was closing in and at the hairpin made a dive up the inside. Klien couldn't see him until he turned and the pair went wheel to wheel, with the result of Christian being forced to retire with damage to his car.
"I'll have to have a look at what happened," Klien said when asked if Michael was being a bit opportunistic. "I went into the corner then saw him on the inside; he hit me at the rear and the suspension broke. So that was it, I was out of the race. It was very disappointing."
At the front Barrichello and Raikkonen, who had been nose to tail on the track, pitted together and retained formation. Michael had a bit of a wild spin but managed to keep going and homed in on Coulthard. He dispatched the McLaren and brother Ralf was next in his sights. The Williams fought but was similarly made short work of, then after all that effort Michael went in for his first stop.
He rejoined behind Villeneuve and the reigning champion and the former champion spent much of the rest of the race arguing amongst themselves. After the first pit stop shakedown it was Barrichello leading Raikkonen, the two staying relentlessly glued together, then Button, Alonso, Ralf, Fisichella, Coulthard and Zonta. Shortly afterwards Zonta retired with a gearbox problem.
Massa, who was still battling to get back in the points, was the first to stop again and Raikkonen had quite an early stop the second time around. McLaren switched his strategy to a short-hop middle stint in the hope of leapfrogging Barrichello but it didn't work out. Rubens rejoined in the lead after his second stop and Button, who was on a two stopper compared to Raikkonen's three, jumped the McLaren for second.
Next on Michael's list of adventures was a left rear puncture and he scuttled off to the pits for a tyre change. Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner spun but kept going and then Ralf and Coulthard clashed at the last corner. Coulthard had a go at Ralf and hit the rear of his car, which resulted in a puncture for the Williams.
Ralf went wobbling off track and meandered around a bit randomly, then managed to wrestle the wayward Williams into the pit entry, with another spin for good measure. But the team was ready for Montoya to come in for his stop so confusion reigned. By the time Juan Pablo had been in and out, it was apparently too late for Ralf to rejoin the race. Reportedly it was Ralf's decision not to rejoin, which the team was not terribly impressed with.
Bruni, who was still going after his early problem, abruptly lost his front right wheel, which went flying off and bounced down an exit road. He limped back to the pits to retire. Barrichello had a very quick third stop to retain the lead ahead of Button, with Raikkonen and Alonso, who was had a quiet race, holding station in third and fourth.
Michael was back behind Villeneuve again and finally escaped the Renault at the last turn after the long straight -- only to dive in the pits again. He seemed to be on a very peculiar strategy; it was the second time he pitted immediately after overtaking someone. He then had to suffer the ignominy of being lapped by the leaders.
In the closing stages Villeneuve was determinedly harassing Jaguar's Mark Webber, who also had a quiet afternoon, but couldn't get past. The pair were being caught by the leaders, with Raikkonen starting to close in on Button. The Sauber duo returned to the points after their three-stoppers, Fisichella in seventh and Massa eighth.
Raikkonen was reeling Button in lap by lap but there just wasn't enough time. Barrichello took the chequered flag and the win, with Button and Raikkonen nose to tail behind him. Alonso followed in fourth and Montoya, who had been fairly anonymous, took fifth. Sato had a good race to come home sixth after starting at the back, and the Saubers completed the points.
A fine race by Barrichello, who weathered the pressure from Raikkonen in the first half -- there was a lot of excited squawking coming from his car radio on the warm down lap. As opposed to the similarly-shod Saubers at the start, Barrichello experienced graining on his Bridgestones towards the end of the race.
"I had a very good start and I was amazed by the grip on the first lap," he said. "I actually underestimated it a little bit, I could have pushed a little bit harder because the grip was there so I was feeling good the whole way through and it was really, really nice. Towards the end, because I had an eight second gap, I didn’t push too much and actually the graining on the front stayed there for a longer time so I was having a tougher time actually towards the end of the race."
Button also raced well and his two-stopper paid off, but you kind of get the feeling that Jenson's maiden victory is being stubbornly elusive. "It was a good race for us and I was very happy to get second," he commented.
"But, you know, the starts have been a bit of a problem lately for us and to lose two places off the start, almost three places, was disastrous for us really and it is something we need to work. But if we have that we will be a lot closer to challenging for our first win.
Raikkonen admitted that changing his strategy was a gamble but he was fairly happy with third: "I think we were taking a little bit of a risk in the middle of the race to try to pass Rubens," he said. "We did quite a short fill on the second stop but it didn't pay off but we tried to win the race and not come second so I am not too disappointed to lose second place."
Once Button had got past Alonso in the opening laps, the Spaniard was never really in contention for a podium finish. The bad news for Renault is that BAR is now nine points ahead in the constructors' standings. Villenueve couldn't be expected to perform miracles in his first race in a year but finished 11th after a solid performance.
Sato kept his head down and drove very well to come back in the points, he and Button making BAR boss David Richards a happy man. "It was a sensational drive by Jenson," he said. "He couldn't have done any more. You have to give it to Rubens but for us, both cars in the points is great. Takuma did a great job and it was just what we needed for the team."
Massa, naturally, had hoped to have done better from a fourth place start but he'd said on the grid that points were his aim, knowing a podium was unlikely. Fisichella was quite happy with his seventh place, after also suffering with tyre graining early on.
All in all, it was quite an entertaining race. The action slacked off in the second half but there was enough interest to last to the end. Barrichello has secured his second place in the drivers' championship but the battle between BAR and Renault lives on -- and McLaren is now only six points behind Williams. Final top eight classification: Barrichello, Button, Raikkonen, Alonso, Montoya, Sato, Fisichella, Massa.