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Schumacher needs a change of Chinese fortune
September 28, 2006 20:51 IST
To the many mysteries of the Orient, add Michael Schumacher's dismal record in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Any locals who have watched the Ferrari great's two appearances at the Shanghai circuit, without witnessing any of his other races, can only be baffled.
The most successful driver in the history of Formula One, with almost as many wins as Alain Prost and the late Ayrton Senna combined, has -- to put it mildly -- failed to live up to his star billing.
Never mind seven world titles and 90 race wins or the fact that Ferrari's flaming red is a symbol of good fortune and prosperity in China.
The German has yet to score a point in Shanghai, or finish higher than 12th, and last year's performance must rank as one of the worst of his extraordinary career.
First he careered into the Minardi of Dutch rookie Christijan Albers while heading to the starting grid even before the formation lap. Then he spun out while in a procession behind the safety car.
The year before, in a race won by Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello, he was 12th after starting from the pit lane.
To add to the sense of failure, before the biggest crowd of the year, he was lapped by the Brazilian in his first non-scoring finish since 1999.
Schumacher can normally be counted on to adapt brilliantly to new circuits and there is not a single venue on the Grand Prix calendar, with the exception of China, where he has not appeared at least once on the podium.
In mitigation, it might be argued that two races hardly make a trend and Schumacher has yet to compete in China with anything at stake.
In 2004, he arrived with the title won and the opposition annihilated. Last year, he and Ferrari were already well out of contention in a championship dominated by eventual winners Renault and McLaren.
Yet it has still become a talking point because Schumacher is a driver who loves to win, regardless of the circumstances.
There can be little doubt that taking the very first Chinese Grand Prix for Ferrari in an increasingly appetising market for the Italian glamour marque would have been a major feather in his cap.
So what is his problem, if indeed there is one?
Schumacher seemed to imply in a news conference on Thursday that it is just one of those things that happens in motor racing and that this year, with the title battle finely balanced, would be different.
"I haven't got strong feelings about the place," he said. "It's not to do with luck or anything. It's simply that I was unfortunate the first year, I had a puncture in the race and last year we were completely out with our tyres.
"I hope this year we have a package to compete...from the nature of what we have seen so far this year, there should be no reason why we shouldn't be competitive.
"It's all up to how the car performs," he added, when a local reporter wondered whether he is afraid of any superstitions.
"We were not very good here last year and we were unlucky the year before. So we will probably be better this year."
Schumacher has to be, with Renault's Fernando Alonso just two points clear of him with three races remaining.
The German has the momentum and the car, Ferrari having won five of the last six races. And, having announced his retirement at the end of the season, Sunday will be his last chance to put on a show for the locals.
World champion Alonso, winner in China last year, has no doubt that the 37-year-old can do it.
"Without the problems, I think Michael's race last year was not so bad," said the Spaniard. "I'm sure that Michael will be very competitive tomorrow and all weekend. So it will be an interesting race."
It is worth remembering that McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was once seen as someone who could not quite get to grips with Japan's Suzuka circuit despite finishing second there in 2003 and third in 2002.
The Finn won there in style last year, powering past Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap in a race that ranked as one of Formula One's all-time greats.
If Schumacher can produce some similar magic on Sunday, there will be no more mystery. Fail again and China will always be the one race that he could never master.
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