How Michael Schumacher won his last career victory
The fall of 2006 was in the yard, it was the second year that Michael Schumacher, after five titles in a row and seven in total, was dethroned by younger rivals. But if a year earlier the great German did not take part in the championship race at all ( Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen from Renault and McLaren, respectively, argued for the title ), now the leader of Ferrari has returned to the fight. His rival in the battle for victory in the championship was the reigning crown holder Alonso.
The start of the season was left for the Spaniard, who chalked up two wins and one second in the first three races. And although Shumi then won twice in a row – in San Marino (having won the first victory after the scandalous 2005 US Grand Prix) and at the Nurburgring – Alonso finished second both times, minimizing points loss. And then the Spaniard dealt a devastating blow to the competitors – four victories in a row allowed the Renault driver to break away from the pursuers led by Schumacher by 25 points by the middle of the season.
But the second half of the season was already under Michael’s dictation. With victories in the USA, France, Germany and Italy, where Schumacher announced he was retiring from the Royal Races at the end of the season, the gap between the two title contenders was narrowed to just two points three stages before the end of the championship. On this segment, Alonso did not win a single Grand Prix and only in Turkey was able to win at least something against the German who gained an excellent move.
In Shanghai, where the first of the three final rounds of the title fight took place, Michael arrived with not the best history of performances on this track. In 2004, he was deployed in qualifying, and after starting from the pit lane, contact with Christian Wedge , another turn and a puncture of the wheel, he came to the finish line only 12th. A year later, Michael managed to collide with Christian Albers on his way to the starting grid and again went into battle from the pit lane, ending the race ahead of schedule due to a turn behind the safety car. So the German was determined to rebuild from the streak of Chinese bad luck.
In the first training session, Schumacher showed the second result among combat racers (then the third pilots worked on Fridays) and the fourth among all participants. True, the weather made its own adjustments to the program: the German drove only four laps, and his rival in the championship did not leave at all until lunchtime. In the second session, the Ferrari driver showed the fifth time, while Alonso was placed in the protocol one line below the opponent, losing to Michael less than one tenth.
Schumacher ahead of Alonso in the race in Shanghai
In the third practice on Saturday, already without test pilots, two contenders for the title took the lead roles: Schumacher, in a dispute for the top line, was ahead of Alonso by 172 thousandths. But in qualifying, when the rain, still drizzling, finally went in full force, the Spaniard did not leave the Ferrari driver a single chance. Becoming the best in all three segments,
the Renault pilot took the pole position with a confident margin of more than six-tenths over his second runner-up Giancarlo Fisichella .
Schumacher in the final was able to rise only to sixth place, losing almost a second and a half to the winner. The rubber factor played a huge role in the distribution of places on the starting grid: Michelin worked on a very wet track much better than Bridgestone. The fact that Michael became the only representative of Japanese footwear in the top ten speaks volumes.
On Sunday, the rain did not even think to stop, unleashing a new charge on the track shortly before the race. In Renault they rubbed their hands happily: Schumacher (or rather, his tires), it seemed, did not have a single chance to fight Alonso in such conditions. The first meters of the distance went exactly according to this scenario. Two rivals stayed with their own: Fernando easily retained the lead, while Michael could not win anything from the sixth position. But that was just the beginning.
Formula 1. Chinese Grand Prix. Race
1. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1: 37: 32.747
2. Fernando Alonso (Renault) +3.121
3. Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) +44.197
4. Jenson Button (Honda) +1: 12.056
5. Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren) +1: 17.137
6. Rubens Barrichello (Honda) +1: 19.131
7. Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) +1: 31.979
8. Mark Webber (Williams “) +1: 43.588
9. David Coulthard (Red Bull) +1: 43.796
10. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Toro Rosso) +1 lap
11. Nico Rosberg (Williams) +1 lap
12. Robert Dornbos ( Red Bull) +1 lap
13. Robert Kubica (BMW-Sauber) +1 lap
14. Scott Speed (Toro Rosso) +1 lap
15. Christian Albers (Midland) +3 laps
16. Sakon Yamamoto (“Super Aguri”) +3 circles
The German started his upward breakthrough on the eighth lap by overtaking his former team-mate Rubens Barrichello , and six laps later, Ferrari also outstripped the second Honda, Jenson Button . True, Alonso did not doze behind the wheel, having managed to create for himself by this moment a touchdown of more than 25 seconds over Schumacher – the Spaniard could afford to spend an extra pit stop and stay ahead!
But the conditions gradually changed in a favorable direction for “Bridgestone” – the track dried up, and Michael became more and more competitive with each lap. The German sat on the tail of Fisichelle, while the second Raikkonen was forced to retire due to the breakdown of his McLaren. Schumacher was in the top three, but that was not enough: Alonso’s advantage was still almost a third of a minute.
The highlight of the race was the first wave of pit stops. Fisichella and Schumacher, who managed to better keep their tires in the first segment, decided not to change their shoes, but Alonso, who complained of strong rubber wear in the front, changed two front wheels. But such a move only added to his problems – the Spaniard’s solid advantage evaporated in just a few laps.
Pit stops in Shanghai played in favor of Schumacher
On lap 30, Fisichella, who was propped up from behind by Ferrari, had to pass his teammate who had lost speed in the struggle for the lead (although he, it should be noted, tried to resist), and around later the position was won by Schumacher. Fernando quickly lost sight of a couple of leaders and decided to recoup at the expense of an earlier transition to pseudosliks – by that time the track was dry enough to use dry tires. However, a hitch at the pit stop, which eventually lasted almost 20 seconds, brought almost all efforts to naught: he returned to the track with a lag of almost a minute behind the leaders.
Fisichella and Schumacher were among the last in the pits for the second time. The German did it a circle earlier than his opponent and, due to a few extra kilometers on pseudosliks, easily defeated the Italian on cold tires in the struggle for leadership. However, it was too early for the Ferrari driver to relax: there were still 15 laps before the finish line, and Alonso was rapidly returning to the game behind. The Spaniard refreshed the fastest lap in the race for seven laps in a row, flew past his partner and rushed in pursuit of Michael.
Not Finished :
Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) – Disqualified
Ralph Schumacher (Toyota)
Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
Jarno Trulli (Toyota)
Tiago Monteiro (Midland)
Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren)
The reigning champion simply did not have enough time to fight for victory: despite a solid advantage in pace, all that he managed to do in the circles remaining before the checkered flag flapped was to close the gap to three seconds. The race lasted at least a couple of laps – and Ferrari would hardly have found arguments against Renault.
Thanks to his 91st triumph, Schumacher caught up on points with Alonso and even took the lead in the individual competition due to more victories – seven against six for the Spaniard. Two Grand Prix before the end of the championship and, as expected, the career of the titled German in F1 (there was no Mercedes in the project at that time), the struggle between them began from scratch. However, in fact, the fight will end in a week in Japan, together with the retirement of Shumi, who was in the lead in the race, due to the failure of the Ferrari engine …