After two races without so much as a sniff of the points at the Shanghai International Circuit, Michael Schumacher finally found the fortune he was looking for as he won a race that really should have belonged to Renault.
Having been restricted to the outside of row three when rain in qualifying played into the hands of his Michelin-shod opponents, the German was able to turn the tables on race day, taking advantage of tyre-related dramas for main title rival Fernando Alonso
to draw level at the head of the standings.
Alonso made the most of his pole position to romp away at the start of the race and, aided by obstinate team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, quickly stretched a sizeable lead over the rest of the field. That left the action to happen in his wake - at least until the first round of pit-stops - beginning at the very first turn, where Kimi Raikkonen
took the outside line, despite the damp conditions, to dispose of Rubens Barrichello
and Jenson Button
surprised his team-mate by appearing down the inside to claim third.
Raikkonen then made short work of the second Honda to move into a podium position and, despite the suggestion that he was possibly the lightest of the leading runners, began to look like Alonso's biggest threat, particularly when he caught and passed Fisichella for second on lap 13.
True to form, the McLaren
man was among the first to pit, but took on only fuel as the track continued to dry, hoping to take advantage of his wearing intermediate rubber. Whether he would have been able to do anything about Alonso remained undetermined, however, for, six laps later, the car was seen crawling to a halt, continuing Raikkonen's miserable reliability record.
Alonso, meanwhile, had stretched his lead to 13 seconds over his team-mate, and a whopping 25secs over Schumacher, who had received his first dose of fortune with the removal of one point-scoring rival. Even when the German was able to increase his pace as the conditions came to Ferrari, Alonso maintained a healthy advantage, and still had the cushion of having Fisichella between himself and his title rival.
Schumacher, however, was clearly best of the rest behind the Renaults, having disposed of both the Hondas in the space of five laps to move into third. Button continued to head Barrichello until lap 15, but was then struggling for grip, as his overheated rubber left the rear of the RA106 sliding. Pitting ahead of schedule allowed the Brazilian through to fourth, but his own scheduled stop - interestingly without a tyre change - saw Barrichello drop down the order too.
With a lot of the field looking to one stop to combat the changing conditions, lap 20 came and went with just four cars having pitted and, even then, Robert Doornbos' call had been necessitated by a first corner incident that cost the Dutchman his nose. Nick Heidfeld
was making good progress in the best of the BMW
Saubers, and was up to fourth, heading Mark Webber, Barrichello, team-mate Robert Kubica, Pedro de la Rosa, Felipe Massa
and the recovering Button in the top ten. Raikkonen was the only casualty at this point, but the race had already seen its fair share of incident, with almost every driver finding the limits of adhesion, and some transgressing them.
Schumacher became the first of the frontrunners to pit, on lap 21, but followed Barrichello and Raikkonen's lead by taking on fuel only, despite - or more likely because - his rear Bridgestones already looking more like the slicks of old. The two Renaults followed over the next couple of laps, and this is when the race began to turn towards Maranello. Alonso was first in, with Renault
opting to change the Spaniard's front tyres for a new set of inters, but, when Fisichella pitted from a short-held lead next time around, the team left his rubber alone.