'Don't write Schumacher off'

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

Ferrari teammate Barrichello says world champion still the main threat despite lowly grid position

Write off Michael Schumacher at your peril. That was the message from teammate Rubens Barrichello yesterday as Schumacher's qualifying failure created even more excitement in today's inaugural Sinopec China Grand Prix.

Barrichello was left sitting pretty on pole after Schumacher came to grief on the first turn and will start from 18th on the 20-car grid, in the rare company of Gianmaria Bruni (Minardi), Takuma Sato (BAR) and Zsolt Baumgartner (Minardi).

'Obviously, he's going to have a tough race,' the Brazilian said. 'But we have seen [Giancarlo] Fisichella and [Felipe] Massa start from the back this year and finish in the top six. The nature of the circuit will provide some overtaking and I think Michael can still be there. Winning the race will be a little bit more difficult. But I wouldn't discount him.'

Schumacher, already crowned world champion for the seventh time, also spun on the first lap at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, but fought his way through the field to finish second to Barrichello, their eighth 1-2 finish of the season.

Schumacher, who has won an amazing 12 times this season, said he had no idea why he spun. 'I don't know if it was my fault or not. If we don't find something in the car, then maybe it is down to what is between the fuel tank and the steering wheel! 'One thing is certain. It will be a big challenge.'

Barrichello was shocked to see his illustrious teammate spin as 'he doesn't do that very often'.

'I thought pole was possible, but I did not know what Michael would do and expected it to be close,' he said. 'This is a phenomenal circuit with different lines through the corners which means it is easy to make mistakes. The balance of my car was good and I was especially strong in the second session.'

Barrichello said it was going to be a new experience for everyone today and he predicted there would be plenty of overtaking. Ferrari boss Jean Todt said they had a bigger challenge than normal because it was rare for them to have one car at the front and one at the back.

'We would have preferred to have an all-red front row for the inaugural China Grand Prix, but getting pole is a good result. Our car is very competitive and we will do our utmost to put on a show for the fans.'

Kimi Raikkonen said he was not surprised to qualify second and he had a good feeling for today's race.

'Being the first race in China, it's particularly important for us all,' said the McLaren driver, who has endured a season of frustration, despite winning in Belgium last month.

'The car has felt good from the start of the weekend and I have really been able to push. The track conditions changed a bit overnight so we used the morning sessions to perfect the setup and it worked. I think we have a have a very good race tactic and we are in with a chance of wining.'

Jenson Button, who has seven podium finishes this season, will start from third on the grid, but his BAR teammate Takuma Sato goes back 10 places to 19th following an enforced engine change after Friday's free practice.

BAR have a three-point lead over Renault in the fight for second in the Constructors' Championship. 'We are disappointed we can't have two teams up there, but the important thing is we qualified well ahead of the Renaults, which was our immediate target,' Button said.

'I don't think we could have got much more out of the car and I was particularly pleased with the last sector. I think we have a good setup and strategy.' Fernando Alonso will lead the Renault attack from sixth on the grid, while Jacques Villeneuve, in his first Grand Prix for a year, will start from 12th. Massa posted his best qualifying result and will start fourth in his Sauber.