BUTTON AND RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN SECURE PODIUM SLOTS Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello has made history by becoming the first driver to win a Formula One world championship race in China -- but Michelin stars Jenson Button (Bâ€¢Aâ€¢R-Honda) and Kimi ...
BUTTON AND RÄIKKÖNEN SECURE PODIUM SLOTS
Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello has made history by becoming the first driver to win a Formula One world championship race in China -- but Michelin stars Jenson Button (B•A•R-Honda) and Kimi Räikkönen (Team McLaren Mercedes) made him work for it in an enthralling contest. Barrichello stormed away from pole position to take an early lead before becoming embroiled in a nip-and-tuck tactical battle: he and Räikkönen opted for three-stop strategies while Button gambled on two.
The Englishman's strategy vaulted him past the Finn halfway through the 56-lap race but he didn't quite have enough to stay within striking distance of Barrichello when the leader made his third and final stop on lap 42. The top three all closed up in the final stages after being delayed by lapped traffic, but Barrichello held on to win by a second while Button and Räikkönen finished almost as one. It was Button's ninth podium finish of the campaign, but the result ends his slender hopes of overhauling Barrichello for second place in the world championship.
Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) sprinted from sixth on the grid to hold third in the early stages, but he eventually had to settle for a distant fourth, ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) and Takuma Sato (B•A•R-Honda/Michelin). The rising Japanese star put in a spirited performance to help B•A•R strengthen its grip on second place in the world championship for constructors. Starting at the tail of the field after being given a 10-position grid penalty in the wake of an enforced pre-race engine change, he stormed through the field to finish sixth.
David Coulthard (Team McLaren Mercedes, ninth) headed the remaining Michelin survivors, from Mark Webber (Jaguar, 10th), F1 returnee Jacques Villeneuve (Renault, 11th) and Olivier Panis (Toyota, 14th). Coulthard survived a clash with Ralf Schumacher as they battled for seventh. In his first start since June, the German -- who has been recuperating from a back injury -- was forced to retire as a result of the incident. Coulthard sustained a damaged tyre but was able to continue after a pit stop. Panis qualified eighth but almost stalled at the start and was never able to recapture the promise of his qualifying form.
The other two Michelin drivers were forced out: Ricardo Zonta (Toyota) pulled off with a technical problem and Christian Klien (Jaguar) retired in the wake of a clash with Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari driver, who changed his engine after qualifying, was making his way through the field after starting from the pit lane. Although the German set the race's fastest lap, he had a difficult afternoon and finished only 12th after losing time with a spin and a damaged tyre.
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:
"We predicted that our tyres would be well suited to race conditions in Shanghai and so it proved. This afternoon our quickest two drivers were able to lap in the 1m 32s bracket towards the end of a stint -- and that highlights our tyres' blend of speed and consistency. Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen both drove exceptionally well. If Kimi had been able to get ahead at the start, the race might have had a different complexion."
"It was clear that he was potentially faster than Barrichello during that opening stint. It would have been fascinating to see how the race might have panned out had he been able to get by but you can't change history. And Jenson looked in good shape to take his maiden F1 win using a different strategy, but I am sure he will win soon."
"Overall this has been an extraordinary event. The facilities in Shanghai are superb and the weekend has run smoothly from start to finish. It is an ambitious project that has been brilliantly executed. The track is technically challenging and permits drivers to race wheel to wheel -- there were some entertaining battles throughout the field."
"We are now looking ahead to the Japanese GP, two weeks hence. In the meantime, Michelin's ceaseless quest for ever-greater performance goes on. Several of our partner teams will be testing this week at Jerez, Spain."
Pascal Vasselon, F1 programme manager:
"This week-end the performance and consistency of our tyres allowed us to go for a two or three stop strategy without affecting the overall rhythm of the race. This is only possible when the tyre is very constant."
"We were particularly pleased to see Ralf Schumacher's performance this week-end which was consistently at a very high level, despite his long lay off from Formula One."