1 Oct 2006
On 1st October 2006, Michael Schumacher won the Chinese Grand Prix. The Shanghai win was significant for the German as it was the ninety first and last of his career and the seventy second at the wheel of a Ferrari. It was a particularly exciting victory because of the way it came about and also because it put him ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ classification after a spectacular fight back, which saw him make up 25 points in seven Grands Prix.
The Shanghai weekend did not get off to a promising start. On Friday, the engine in Felipe Massa’s cars broke, which resulted in a drop of ten places on the grid and, on Saturday in the wet, the car-tyre package was not a match for the rival Renault, which saw Alonso and Fisichella on the front row, with Michael only sixth. What the rain and the performance of the Bridgestone tyres took away on Saturday, was then given back on Sunday. Struggling in the early stages, when the track was still wet, the 248 F1 began to fly as the track gradually dried out. On lap 15, Michael in fourth place was still 25 seconds down on Alonso, but the turnaround came with the first refuelling stops: on lap 21, the German lying third at the time kept the same tyres, while the Spaniard came in and changed just his fronts on the following lap. Alonso immediately seemed to struggle, losing all his lead: on lap 29, the leading trio were all within the same second and on lap 30 Fisichella took the lead. One more lap and Michael passed his rival in the Drivers’ championship, moving up to second. Felipe had pitted on lap 29, also sticking with the same tyres he had used since the start, rejoining in tenth place. The track was now suitable for dry tyres: among the leaders, the first to make this switch was Alonso on lap 35, however he lost around a dozen seconds during the pit stop.
Michael made his second stop on lap 40, followed by Fisichella next time round: the Renault driver was struggling to get his tyres up to temperature immediately and Michael made the most of this with bravura, pulling off a daring passing move at the first corner to take the lead. Felipe, who had changed tyres on lap 34 and was lapping at a great pace, saw his race end on lap 44, when the left front suspension broke, following a collision with Coulthard at the hairpin. In the final part of the race, we watched Alonso slip by his team-mate with ease on lap 48, while in the closing laps the rain reappeared. The Spanish Renault man managed to close on Michael, who was actually driving with great care as he kept control of the situation, crossing the line with an advantage of a little over 3 seconds.
At the end of this exceptional fight back, one could think the worse was over, all the more so when it was the result of Michael’s bravura, rather than through the mistakes of others. Schumacher’s dreams of leaving Formula 1 as world champion seemed to be taking shape, but eight days later at Suzuka, the Scuderia lived through one of the biggest disappointments of its racing history.