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Schumacher Wins Chinese Grand Prix

By SALVATORE ZANCA
The Associated Press
Sunday, October 1, 2006; 9:56 AM

SHANGHAI, China -- With two races to go, Formula One's season couldn't be closer.

Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher's victory Sunday in the Chinese Grand Prix ties him with defending champion Fernando Alonso of Renault at 116 points.

Alonso was second and Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella third, in a race that started wet and whose outcome was largely determined by tire choices as the track dried.

Renault's second- and third-place finishes, meanwhile, put it one point ahead of Ferrari 179-178 in the race for the constructor's championship.

It all comes down to what happens later this month in Japan and Brazil.

"We need everyone out there to cross their fingers for us and then we'll get it," said Schumacher, who before Sunday's race had whittled Alonso's 25-point lead to a two-point margin.

Alonso had the pole in Shanghai, but lost the lead on the 31st lap. He had to struggle back to finish second.

With the margins of victory and defeat so tight, the championship could be decided on the subtlest of decisions by team technicians. That was underscored Sunday when Ferrari's choice of tires and the timing of its tire changes gave it an edge over Renault.

"We found the right moment to change to dry tires and we had enough of a gap to drive it safely home," Schumacher said.

If the season ends in a tie, the winner will be the one with the most victories, which would currently be Schumacher, seven to six. If Alonso picks up another win and it's still a tie, it will go to whoever has the most second-place finishes, which, at present is Alonso, six to four.

After morning showers drenched the track, the rain paused for the start with both Renaults on the front row for the third time this season.

Moving smoothly away from the field, Alonso had a gap of 11.5 seconds over Fisichella after 10 laps, while Schumacher languished in fifth, more than 20 seconds behind the leaders.

After the first pit stops from laps 20 to 22, Alonso maintained a lead of 10 seconds but had trouble with his front tires, losing seconds with each lap.

By lap 29, three cars were within a few lengths of each other when Fisichella and Schumacher passed Alonso.

After both Schumacher and Fisichella pitted, Schumacher passed Fisichella on the inside of the first turn in a brilliant maneuver with two wheels on the grass.

"It was clear that turn one would be difficult, I knew from practice. I was thinking it could be an issue with Giancarlo and there it was," Schumacher said.

Alonso whittled the gap to 3.1 seconds by the end, but Schumacher had the victory in hand.

"In the end, there were not enough laps left," said Alonso. "So it was a bad day but this is a fantastic fight for the championship and I go to Japan feeling really confident."

Sunday's win was the 91st of Schumacher's career and his fifth in the last seven races.

Honda's Jenson Button finished fourth, McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa fifth, Honda's Rubens Barrichello sixth, BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld seventh and Williams' Mark Webber eighth.

© 2006 The Associated Press