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Focus - 2004's fastest of the fast 04 Nov 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai, China, 24 September 2004 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR celebrates his third position in qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Qualifying Day, Silverstone, England, 10 July 2004 Race winner Rubens Barrichello (BRA) celebrates on the podium. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai, China, 26 September 2004 Pole sitter Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault in the post qualifying press conference.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Qualifying Day, Magny Cours, France, 3 July 2004

Race pace is arguably the most important ingredient in a well-rounded driver. Many can be fast over a single flying lap, with a low fuel load, on a perfect track with no traffic, but to win grands prix, and more importantly championships, you have to be able to put in lap after lap at a consistently fast pace, despite constant changes in your car’s performance and in race conditions.

Using formula1.com’s results archive for 2004, we looked at the Fastest Laps summary for each race to gauge who had the highest and most consistent race pace across the course of the season. To do this we looked at where a driver was placed in the fastest lap table for every race (…that they recorded a time in) and then averaged their positions.

Not surprisingly Michael Schumacher tops the rankings. He set the fastest lap in 11 of the 18 races and only once did he fall below second in the table (a fourth in Brazil), giving him an average placing of 1.5. Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello was next up. He took three fastest laps, but a more erratic performance in other races – he dropped as low as 12th in Germany – meant his average was ‘only’ 3.77.

No one else could match the consistency of the Ferraris, hence third-placed Jenson Button’s average takes a jump up to 5.44, a figure not helped by the 20th place he recorded on the list for BAR in Brazil, where his engine blew before he got in any real dry running. Nevertheless, he did just enough to stay ahead of Renault rival Fernando Alonso on 5.66. Both men were remarkably quick throughout the season, their third and fourth places in the rankings coming despite never actually setting a fastest lap and putting them ahead of two men that did.

Just a one point average covered the four drivers who raced for Williams in 2004, and the more races they did, the faster they were. Juan Pablo Montoya led the way, fifth in the table with an average placing of 6, ahead of Ralf Schumacher (6.36), Marc Gene (6.5) and Antonio Pizzonia (7).

Jarno Trulli was ninth overall, well behind Renault team mate Alonso, though to be fair his final two races with Toyota dropped his average somewhat – his lowest placing, a 14th, came at the Japanese team’s home race at Suzuka.

Kimi Raikkonen’s 10th place overall reflects the mixed season experienced by McLaren. After Schumacher, Barrichello and Montoya, he was the only other man to score fastest laps – in Germany and Belgium. However, in a third of the races he failed to rise above 10th in the chart, giving him an average placing of 7.83.

You may have spotted a pattern emerging in the rankings – that is, excluding drivers who missed several races, they pretty much correspond with the final championship positions. No surprise there you may say, but it actually tells more of a story than that. It illustrates just how flat-out Formula One racing was in 2004, with refuelling and tyre changes making each race a series of full-on sprints.

All that could change in 2005, with engines that have to endure two race weekends and tyres that have to last through qualifying and then an entire race distance. Mechanical sympathy may become a far more important attribute next season and a repeat of this exercise in a year’s time may provide very different results - we await them with interest…

Average fastest lap rankings:
1. Michael Schumacher, 1.50
2. Rubens Barrichello, 3.77
3. Jenson Button, 5.44
4. Fernando Alonso, 5.66
5. Juan Pablo Montoya, 6.00
6. Ralf Schumacher, 6.36
7. Antonio Pizzonia, 6.50
8. Marc Gene, 7.00
9. Jarno Trulli, 7.12
10. Kimi Raikkonen, 7.83
11. Takuma Sato, 7.94
12. Giancarlo Fisichella, 9.77
13. David Coulthard, 10.88
14. Mark Webber, 11.23
15. Felipe Massa, 11.52
16. Olivier Panis, 12.25
17. Cristiano da Matta, 12.90
18. Ricardo Zonta, 13.60
19. Christian Klien, 13.94
20. Jacques Villeneuve, 14.44
21. Nick Heidfeld, 15.20
22. Timo Glock, 16.50
23. Giorgio Pantano, 16.91
24. Zsolt Baumgartner, 18.83
25. Gianmaria Bruni, 18.93

Fastest laps for: Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, San Marino, Spain, Monaco, Europe, Canada, United States, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, China, Japan, Brazil.