Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Alonso, Fisichella to lead pack in China

AP , SHANGHAI, CHINA

Fernando Alonso of Renault in action during the first practice session at the Chinese F1 track near Shanghai, China, on Friday. The final race of the F1 World Championship, the Grand Prix of China is scheduled to take place in Shanghai, today.

PHOTO: EPA

New world champion Fernando Alonso led a Renault sweep of the top two spots in qualifying Saturday to give his team the edge heading into the constructors' championship-deciding Chinese Grand Prix.

It was the sixth pole position of the season for Alonso and ninth of his career, but the first time this season that Renault will dominate the front row of the starting grid.

Alonso, who clinched the drivers' title two races ago, posted a time of 1 minute, 34.080 seconds on the 5.451km Shanghai International Circuit to take pole after trailing Kimi Raikkonen through the four practice sessions.

"I am a little bit surprised to be on pole position but the car was perfect," Alonso said. "Everything here has been very positive all weekend. Tomorrow I am full of confidence for all the team."

Alonso's Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was second fastest in 1:34.401, while Raikkonen, who made some small wiggles on his lap, had 1:34.488 for fourth.

"The car was not exactly perfect," Raikkonen said. "We had a little bit difficulty to get the tires working.

"For sure we knew before qualifying that maybe we wouldn't get the pole, but we are still ready to fight for the win,'' he said.

McLaren teammate Juan Pablo Montoya looked to have fourth spot on the grid before Jenson Button went out near the end of the session and posted 1:34.801 in a BAR-Honda.

McLaren and Renault are locked in a duel for the constructors' title at the Formula One season-ending Chinese GP. The order of the constructors' standings determines how much funding each team receives from the sport's governing body.

Renault leads McLaren by two points, 176-174, reversing the two-point advantage that McLaren held last week. The competition could go down to the last lap, just as Raikkonen passed Fisichella on the final circuit of last week's Japanese Grand Prix.

F1 Milestones

* 250: Entries by the Jordan team

* 100: F1 starts for BAR-Honda driver Jenson Button

* 100: Pole positions for cars running Michelin tires

* 1: Times this season that Renault cars have occupied both slots at the top of the grid


Heading into Sunday's 56-lap race, Raikkonen has seven victories this season compared to Alonso's six. McLarens have won the last six races with Raikkonen and Montoya splitting them three each.

Raikkonen and Montoya were 1-2 in both morning practice sessions with Alonso and Fisichella in third and fourth places.

RUNNING ON EMPTY

Formula One closes out its longest-ever season today in Shanghai after a 19-event global grind from March to October that has left teams exhausted and costs spiraling.

So the possibility of even more races next year isn't exactly thrilling the sport's 20 teams, most of whom say they'd prefer a lighter schedule.

"There's a point at which you've just got to take a more moral position and say, you are asking too much, and we are very close to that point," said Ron Dennis, head of the McLaren Mercedes team which is contending for the constructors title .

F1's calendar shows 20 dates for next year, although the final number won't be finalized until December. F1's agreement with teams allows for 16 races with a possible 17th. Any more and organizers must compensate teams.

The most likely addition is Cancun, Mexico, which has built a circuit and signed an agreement with F1 to hold races there.

Already this year's schedule has taken its toll on team morale, with "a lot of examples of people starting to say I just don't want to do this any more," said BAR-Honda chief executive Nick Fry.

The time and travel demands are particularly trying for people with families, with additional pay unable to compensate for time lost, Fry said. "I think 19 has been trying."

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