A game of double strategy

Fernando Alonso, Chinese GP 2005

Fernando Alonso, Chinese GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

The qualifying session for the Chinese Grand Prix was all about race strategy. It was clear that Renault would need to have a plan to stop Kimi Raikkonen taking off and winning the race. The best way to do that was to have Fernando Alonso as the hare and Giancarlo Fisichella as the tortoise to slow down those behind. That way even if Raikkonen gets ahead of Fisichella he will still have a way to go to catch Alonso and thus there is a chance that Renault can win victory. If that fails the chances would be that Alonso and Fisichella would finish second and third and in that scenario, even with Raikkonen winning the race and Juan Pablo Montoya finishing fourth, the Constructors' title would go to Renault.

In order to win the title therefore Raikkonen needs to win the race and Montoya must be third. In that case Renault might finish second and fourth but that would not be enough to take the title.

The problem for McLaren was that Montoya had to run early in qualifying, as a result of his shunt in Japan, and that meant running on a dirty track. The team thus had to decide how much fuel to give Montoya and that is a key issue. Certainly Montoya did a good time in the circumstances and ended up fifth overall. But was that with a heavy load or a light load?

Alonso, with what looked like a light load, was on pole and, as it turned out, was four-tenths faster than Raikkonen. The key point was that Fisichella was between them, Kimi failing to beat Giancarlo by the tiniest of margins - 0.087s. There are some who might have wondered why, by the end of what is a very long lap, Fisichella was still not far ahead of Raikkonen by the end of the lap but if that was the case it was not quite slow enough to cause an incident. Did it do any damage to Kimi's lap time? Probably not. Perhaps yes. Was it gamesmanship? Well, what else could it be.

Behind all of this Jenson Button was fourth quickest, ahead of Montoya and given the track advantage that was not really a surprise. Michael Schumacher was sixth but Ferrari has struggled in every race recently and so the chances are that Michael would be holding others back on race day. David Coulthard was next for Red Bull, which was a good effort, ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher. The Toyotas were obviously struggling in China. So too was Williams with Mark Webber 10th and Antonio Pizzonia 13th. Felipe Massa was 11th but practice before qualifying seemed to suggest that this had been achieved with a light fuel load and Jacques Villeneuve's 16th position on the grid was an indication that the Sauber men were not going to be a serious threat.

The stage is set for a great race. Perhaps not as great as the Japanese Grand Prix but the nice thing about Formula 1 is that one can never tell.

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