It's mission accomplished for Ferrari

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 September, 2004, 12:00am

'We really wanted to win here as China is very important for our future'

Ferrari conquered a new country and a new Grand Prix yesterday. Now it wants to conquer China's car market. As Rubens Barrichello doused Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo with champagne in unprecedented scenes on the victory dais, the commercial realities were obvious.

'This victory is very important for Fiat,' said a soaked Di Montezemolo before more than 150,000 fans at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Ferrari, which is owned by Fiat, hopes to double its car sales in China this year, and Barrichello's historic win in the inaugural Sinopec China Grand Prix was a marketeer's dream.

Team boss Jean Todt said: 'We really wanted to win here today as China is a very important country for our future.

'I am also proud that Ferrari's name is the first to go into the record books for this Grand Prix.'

Barrichello said the significance of his achievement would probably dawn on him 'tomorrow or some days later'.

'I have spent much of this season trying to catch up to Michael [Schumacher]. He started at such a high level and for some reason I wasn't able to catch him. Right now I'm going through a good phase,' said the Brazilian, who would love to put the icing on the cake with victory in his home Grand Prix next month. First he has to go to Japan for the penultimate event of the season.

'Everything has gone well for me in China,' he said. 'Even the guys on the roads have been teaching me how to drive,' he said, referring to the madness on the streets of Shanghai.

'The reception we have had from the Chinese people has been fantastic.'

Barrichello was pushed early by McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and then late in the piece by Jenson Button (BAR), but it was another professional production by the Ferrari team. 'I had a very good start and I was amazed at the amount of grip I had on the first lap. Kimi pushed me quite hard but I was able to hold him.

'I was not sure I was in command of the race until my final pitstop. Towards the end when I had an eight-second gap the team told me to back off a bit. Then I had to step up when Jenson got closer,' said Barrichello after his ninth career win. It also clinched him second place in the drivers' championship behind his teammate.

Button's qualifying performance became even more commendable when his two-stop strategy was revealed.

'When you know the other guys are doing a three-stop and you're doing a two it makes it very difficult mentally because you have so much weight on board.' Button finished only 1.035 seconds behind Barrichello.

Raikkonen lost second after McLaren decided to change strategy in an attempt to get past the Ferrari. 'We are here to win races and we decided to change strategy in an attempt to get past Rubens with a short middle stint. Unfortunately, it didn't work out and we lost second place to Jenson,' Raikkonen said.

'The car felt good throughout the weekend and I'm not too disappointed,' said the Finn.

Fernando Alonso finished fourth in his Renault and predicted good things in the final two races. 'The car improved during the weekend and got better throughout the race. The next two circuits should favour us more and I am feeling good. My motivation is high and I am focused on scoring the points we need to get back into second in the championship.' Renault trail BAR by nine points in the constructors' championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya said he was happy to collect some points for Williams after finishing fifth, ahead of Takuma Sato (BAR), who started 18th on the grid.

Jacques Villeneuve finished 11th in his first Grand Prix in a year but heads for Japan in optimistic mood. 'I learned a lot during the afternoon,' said the Canadian, who is driving the last three races for Renault. 'I know the car better now and have a full race under my belt. I feel ready for Suzuka.'