Schumacher set for Chinese Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher was fastest in Saturday's final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:37 IST
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Michael Schumacher was fastest in Saturday's final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, with arch rival and season leader Fernando Alonso barely two tenths of a second behind. Ferrari's Schumacher posted a fastest lap of one minute, 40.193 seconds on the rain-slickened track, while Alonso lapped at 1:40.365 for Renault. Saturday afternoon's qualifying session will decide which of the series' 23 drivers will start from the front of the grid. The strong showing by the rivals set the stage for a desperately tight contest in Sunday's 56-lap race, the third-to-last in one of the most tightly contested seasons in years. The result closely followed Friday's second session, at which Alonso and Schumacher had raced to within a tenth of a second of each other. Honda's Jenson Button was third in practicing at 1:40.590, followed closely by Toro Rosso teammates Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed, the only American in the series. Alonso, a Spaniard, currently holds a 108-106 point lead over seven-time champion Schumacher, and is looking to halt any further erosion of his lead. Six races ago, Alonso led by 25 points after winning six of the first nine races of the season. Since then, he hasn't won a race while Schumacher has won four. Alonso has taken pole position five times this season, while Schumacher has started from the top of the grid four times. The competition between the newcomer and veteran grew even more intense after Schumacher announced his retirement following his victory at the Italian GP earlier this month. While Schumacher is enjoying a run of good form, the German has repeatedly met with trouble at the state-of-the-art Shanghai track. He came in 12th in 2004 and finished dead last in 2005 amid spins, freak crashes and tire blowouts. Alonso won here last year to clinch the constructor's crown for Renault. Last year, the then 24-year-old became the youngest driver to win the season driving title. McLaren's Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen has already racked up second and third place finishes in Shanghai, but spun out in practice and didn't post a fastest lap. (AP)