After the expectation, the unexpected for Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:00am

Formula One motor racing makes history today when the inaugural China Grand Prix gets under way in front of a sell-out 150,000-plus spectators at the 2.64 billion yuan Shanghai International Circuit.

But the most successful racing driver ever, Michael Schumacher, will have to battle his way from second last on the starting grid if he wants to add to his record-breaking tally of wins, after he spun out on the first corner in his one-lap qualifying attempt.

His Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello will take pole position as an estimated worldwide television audience of 1 billion tunes into the race.

German superstar Schumacher said his spinning out of control wouldn't stop him and the other 19 drivers delivering a memorable first for China during the 56-lap race around the 5.45km circuit.

'I wasn't expecting this. In Formula One you never give up. It will be very difficult from where I am, but I hope to excite the Chinese fans with what I can do [today].'

Schumacher and the champion Ferrari team were last night examining data in search of an explanation for the world champion's mishap about 10 seconds into his first serious lap on the new Shanghai circuit.

'We had found the right set-up, so I need to find out what happened,' a perplexed Schumacher said. 'Usually there is understeer into that corner to fight with. We didn't change the set-up much from this morning when we found the right solution. I have a feeling it was not down to me. We need to look at the data.

'I had to come through the field at Monza [at the Italian Grand Prix]. I am not angry, just disappointed.'

No other drivers had a problem with the first corner, which leads into a snail-shell-like sweep, one of the many complexities of the circuit 30km west of the city centre. The track has won overwhelming praise from drivers.

Schumacher, the seven-times world champion, had set the fastest time in pre-qualifying in the morning. But what was shaping as a Ferrari procession, after teammate Barrichello held the provisional pole, turned into a far more interesting inaugural grand prix after the German's mishap.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said the 'Prancing Horse' might be first and only second last on the grid but 'we are still the major actor'.

The main stands were about three-quarters full yesterday and Mr Montezemolo expects to see a sea of red today.

'I'm really happy to see the red flags among the Chinese fans. I'm pleased and proud. And I'm sure Rubens and Michael will do their best for the public,' he said.