26 September 2004
Chinese GP 2004: Rubens' takeaway.
Rubens Barrichello sealed second place in the F1 world championship with his first ever back-to-back victory after leading the field home at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.
The Brazilian, who had qualified on pole position during a dramatic session on Saturday, made no mistake away from the start, moving over to protect his advantage from fellow front row starter Kimi Raikkonen and holding the lead through the tricky first corner complex.
Barrichello's task was eased by a poor getaway for third-place starter Jenson Button, who found himself swamped by the fast-starting Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa before the opening turn. Further back, Olivier Panis made an even worse start, all but stalling on the eight grid slot and forcing those behind him to take avoiding action before finally getting away in 18th.
Missing from the grid, however, was world champion Michael Schumacher, who had opted to start from the pit-lane after an overnight engine change designed to elicit a possible cure for whatever had caused the German to spin out of qualifying. The Ferrari team used the decision to stuff the F2004 with fuel in the hope that Schumacher could make up lost ground while his rivals stopped early on.
As Barrichello and Raikkonen eased away, Button refused to defer to Massa, harrying the Brazilian through turn two, but then losing out once again at the fourth corner. The battle raged for the following couple of laps, before the Briton finally made a move stick entering the longest straight. Massa, by now, was beginning to struggle with the tyre graining problem that had afflicted the Bridgestone runners for much of the weekend. Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella quickly closed on the Brazilian, but Massa's reluctance to let the Italian through allowed the chasing pack, headed by Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard to join the train.
Fisi eventually moved into fifth at the same point that Button had found a way past Massa, with Schumacher taking advantage of the Brazilian's loss of momentum by sneaking through at the hairpin. Coulthard tried to follow suit, but had to stomp on the brakes as Massa held firm, and then smoked his brakes again at turn two after another move was blocked.
On a charge, Button quickly closed on third-placed Alonso, and wasted little time in passing the Spaniard at the hairpin. Although the Renault driver attempted to fight back over the following lap, Button appeared to have his measure, easing out a gap as he set off in pursuit of the two leaders.
Further back, the world champion was struggling to make much headway, his heavy fuel load combining with the early stage Bridgestone problems to keep him behind the likes of Panis and the Jordans. Once he had worked his way through the backmarkers and taken advantage of a few early pit-stops, Schumacher's pace began to pick up, but he misjudged a passing move on Jaguar rookie Christian Klien, clattering into the Austrian at the hairpin and breaking the R5's suspension. That error was followed, four laps later, by another lapse by the German, who spun out of the quick corner leading onto the back straight, costing himself several positions in the process.
The first round of pit-stops had begun several laps earlier, with Massa no doubt relieved to don another set of tyres as he became the first to enter the pit-lane. A lap later, the midfield battle between Fisichella, Coulthard and Ricardo Zonta followed suit, but the Italian had the misfortune of catching a hobbled Gianmaria Bruni on the entrance road, as the Minardi driver limped in with a puncture.
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