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Formula One 2004 Season Review - Part Two 08 Nov 2004

Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR celebrates a career best second position in qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Qualifying, 29 May 2004 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 13 June 2004 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Indianapolis, USA, 19 June 2004 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren celebrates his pole position.
Formula One World Championship, British Grand Prix, Rd 11, Qualifying Day, Silverstone, England, 10 July 2004 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Sauber in the pit garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Practice Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 23 July 2004

Europe, Canada, USA, France, Britain, Germany

In the second of our three-part look at the 2004 FIA Formula One World Championship, we take you from round seven, with Takuma Sato’s stunning second on the grid, through the trauma of Ralf Schumacher’s Indianapolis accident, and on to Kimi Raikkonen’s thrilling battle with Michael Schumacher at Silverstone...

Round Seven - Europe - May 30
M Schumacher
Pole: M Schumacher
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

After the ‘upset’ that was Monaco, the more cynical Formula One pundits were quick to predict a return to Ferrari dominance at the Nurburgring. And the champions did indeed go on to score another one-two finish, but that was far from the whole story. Schumacher may have taken the ten points, but for many the driver of the weekend was Takuma Sato. With BAR team mates Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson having topped three of the four practice sessions between them, Sato moved to the fore in pre-qualifying, with a stunning lap that remained unbeaten all meeting. He couldn’t quite repeat the performance in qualifying proper, but he still became the first Japanese ever to clinch a front-row grid spot, lining up alongside polesitter Michael Schumacher.

In the race it became clear that BAR’s pace had worried Ferrari enough for them to run Schumacher on an unusually light fuel load. The champion promptly scampered off into the lead, leaving Sato to fend off a fast-starting Trulli. However, their squabble cost both men places and by the end of lap one it was Raikkonen in second, from Alonso, Sato, Barrichello, Button and Trulli. Behind them the two Williams had made contact at Turn one, putting Ralf out of the race, as well as innocent victim da Matta. Raikkonen’s lack of pace played into Ferrari’s hands, with a train of potentially quicker cars building up behind the McLaren as Schumacher extended his lead up front.

Barrichello’s two-stop strategy (Schumacher and most of the rest were on three) helped lift him to second, with Sato emerging as the only real challenger to Ferrari’s one-two formation. On lap 46, on fresh tyres, he made a rather ambitious lunge up the inside of the Brazilian into the first turn. It almost came off, but slight contact with the Ferrari lost his BAR its front wing and he was forced to pit, elevating team mate Button to podium status. Sato’s chances of fourth then ended just two laps later when, yet again, his Honda engine expired.

The Renaults of Trulli and Alonso, comprehensively out-performed by the BARs, picked up fourth and fifth to consolidate the team’s second spot in the standings. Meanwhile, the two-stopping Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella took an excellent sixth, coming from 19th on the grid after an engine change and fending off the hard-charging Jaguar of Webber in the closing stages. Juan Pablo Montoya recovered from his first lap drama to pick up a consolatory point for Williams, while another dismal weekend for McLaren saw both Coulthard and Raikkonen retire with engine failures.

Round Eight - Canada - June 13
M Schumacher
Pole: R Schumacher
Fastest Lap: Barrichello
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Strategy was the key to the Canadian race, and once again it was Ferrari who got it right. There may not have been too many passing moves around the Montreal circuit on Sunday afternoon, but tactically it was a thriller and there was even an unexpected, added twist hours after the chequered flag had fallen.

Friday’s and Saturday’s practice sessions showed little sign of a Williams revival, but all that changed in qualifying. The BMW-powered squad finished one-two in the pre-qualifier, with Ralf leading the way from Montoya, but when Button set a stunner for BAR in qualifying proper, a Williams pole seemed out of the question. Ralf dug deep though, snatching it by less than a tenth from the Brit, with the rest of the field trailing in the distance, including the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello down in sixth and seventh respectively.

By the end of Sunday, however, that P6 and 7 had been converted to P1 and 2, thanks largely to Ferrari’s excellent choice of a two-stop strategy. Their Williams and BAR rivals opted for three-stoppers, but the best that could do was put Ralf between the scarlet cars on the podium, and even that evaporated when Williams and Toyota were disqualified post race for illegal brake ducts. The other team that may have challenged Ferrari, Renault, suffered their first double retirement of the year, allowing BAR to close to within nine points of their second place in the constructors’ standings.

The disqualifications brought good news for others too. Giancarlo Fisichella gave Sauber their best placing of the year with fourth, while McLaren overcame their reliability woes to bring both cars home in the points. Jordan managed the same, with Timo Glock (standing in for Giorgio Pantano) scoring an unexpected two points on his Grand Prix debut as he finished seventh ahead of team mate Nick Heidfeld.

Round Nine - USA - June 20
M Schumacher
Pole: Barrichello
Fastest Lap: Barrichello
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Rubens Barrichello was the man to beat in practice at Indianapolis. He topped the first three sessions, as his Ferrari team mate struggled to find a set-up to his liking. Only in the fourth session was he eclipsed, by Jenson Button, setting the stage for another Ferrari-BAR showdown in qualifying. In the end it proved a formation grid – Ferrari one-two (Barrichello, Schumacher), BAR three-four (Sato, Button) and Williams five-six (Montoya, Ralf). Jarno Trulli was the biggest loser of the session, an electronics glitch preventing him from setting a time.

Drama started early in the race – on the grid in fact. Montoya bailed out of his race car just seconds (less than the required 15) before the formation lap got underway, a move which saw him black-flagged 57 laps into the 73-lap race. When the lights went out it was Alonso who stunned the pack, rocketing from ninth to third into Turn One. Chaos reigned at the rear, though, as da Matta’s Toyota triggered a four-car incident which eliminated Klien, Pantano, Massa and Bruni on lap one, bringing out the safety car for five laps.

When it came in Michael Schumacher got the jump on leader Barrichello and powered past his team mate to seize the advantage. The safety car was soon back though, after Ralf Schumacher’s Williams went into the wall at Turn 13 following a puncture. Michael was among those who took the opportunity to pit and so slowly did the pack weave their way through the debris that he was able to rejoin in the lead immediately behind the safety car. From there he lost the lead only briefly to Barrichello while making his second stop. Montoya looked a potential challenger to the Ferrari one-two until he was shown the black flag, leaving Sato’s charge to third the main source of entertainment. Having lost out by not pitting under the safety car the BAR driver was forced to put in some typically aggressive moves, including a strong pass on Trulli into Turn one on lap to seize the final podium spot.

Trulli held on to fourth to bring some consolation for Renault, who had earlier seen Alonso crash out with a puncture, while Olivier Panis gave Toyota their highest placing of the year with fifth. McLaren were again off the pace, but they at least brought both cars home in the points (Raikkonen sixth, Coulthard seventh) to lift them above Sauber in the standings. The biggest celebrations were at Minardi after Zsolt Baumgartner won the Italian squad their first point in over two years. In eighth place, the Hungarian was the final driver still running when the chequered flag fell on what was a race of high attrition at Indianapolis.

Round Ten - France - July 4
M Schumacher
Pole: Alonso
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

A number of changes for France, but would the result be one of them? Tests had revealed that Ralf Schumacher had cracked two vertebrae in his Indy crash, so Williams tester Marc Gene was drafted in for Magny-Cours. McLaren were in optimistic mood as they prepared to debut the heavily-revised MP4-19B. And FIA President Max Mosley stunned the paddock by announcing that he was to step down at the end of the season (a move he would later reverse after pressure from colleagues).

Few stunning revelations in Friday practice though, as a mixture of wet and dry conditions rendered both sessions meaningless. The teams were thus given Saturday practice in which to make their tyre choice. McLaren’s optimism looked well founded, with Coulthard second in the first session and Raikkonen topping the second, though the times were very tight indeed. That trend continued in qualifying – unless your name was Alonso. The Spaniard’s pole was safely clear of Michael Schumacher and the closely-bunched chasing pack, with Coulthard a season-best third, and Button fourth.

As expected, both Renaults made superb starts, with Alonso first into Turn one and Trulli rocketing from fifth to third. Schumacher stayed in touch with the leader as the chasing pack dropped away, and moved ahead on lap 32 when Alonso made his second of three pit stops. From there, Ferrari played a tactical blinder, switching Schumacher to a four stopper and relying on clean air and the world champion’s sheer speed to keep him ahead. It paid off in style, Schumacher coming home eight seconds clear of Alonso.

Half a minute down the road, the battle for third raged on, with more bad news for Renault on its way. Having withstood intense pressure from Barrichello throughout the closing stages, Trulli was caught napping at the penultimate corner and the Brazilian sneaked through to steal third from under the home team’s nose. Jenson Button followed Trulli home in fifth, the unfortunate BAR driver having earlier lost out to Barrichello after an anti-stall glitch hampered his departure from the pits. McLaren’s revival was rewarded with sixth and seventh for Coulthard and Raikkonen, while Montoya, still suffering from neck pain after a practice shunt, survived a spin to claim Williams’ only point in an ill-handling FW26.

Remarkably, only two cars failed to finish the 70-lap race, and one of those – Baumgartner – was down to driver error. The only mechanical retirement was the luckless Takuma Sato, whose BAR suffered yet another Honda engine failure. The result meant that Ferrari added to their immense points haul, which now stood at 158 – exactly double that of second-placed rivals Renault.

Round Eleven - Britain - July 11
M Schumacher
Pole: Raikkonen
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Kimi Raikkonen had given the revised McLaren MP4-19B its testing debut at Silverstone, but it was still a surprise when the Finn used the machine to top three of the four practice sessions at the circuit ahead of the British Grand Prix. Surprise turned to shock when the Finn proceeded to put it on pole, despite being off the leading pace in the first two sectors of his flying lap. McLaren were, it seemed, back.

Raikkonen’s P1 on the grid followed the most bizarre pre-qualifying session to date. With many teams predicting rain later in qualifying proper, all wanted to secure an early running slot to avoid the potential showers. Hence fans were treated to the unusual spectacle of most drivers either deliberately slowing in the last part of the lap, or in the case of Ferrari, making some curiously fundamental errors. In the end it was all irrelevant, though, as the expected rain never came. It did, however, all add to the case of those pushing for a more fan-friendly qualifying format.

Come Sunday when the lights went out, Raikkonen continued where he had left off in qualifying, streaking away and pulling out a lead of over three seconds on the opening lap. But Ferrari strategy soon came into play and a late first stop vaulted Schumacher, on two stops to Raikkonen’s three, from fourth into the lead. It looked to be settled until Trulli crashed out on lap 40, bringing the safety car into play. Raikkonen dived for the pits and re-emerged with just two back markers between himself and Schumacher. When racing resumed, the Finn was quickly past both, closing to within half a second of the Ferrari. But it wasn’t to be and Schumacher soon reasserted his authority to finish over two seconds clear, with Barrichello close behind Raikkonen in third to ensure another predominantly red podium.

Driver of the day, though, had to be Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian, who had been a very close second to Raikkonen on Friday, started from 20th on the grid after an engine change, but doggedly fought his way through the pack, making the most of a two-stop strategy, and would have finished fifth had it not been for a late pneumatics glitch, which added time to his second stop. In the end he had to settle for sixth, after putting Montoya under intense pressure in the closing stages.

Round Twelve - Germany - July 25
M Schumacher
Pole: M Schumacher
Fastest Lap: Raikkonen
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Practice at Hockenheim indicated a great race in prospect, with Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and BAR all looking strong. It was Michael Schumacher who shone in qualifying, though, with a stunning final sector lifting him three tenths of a second clear of Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams. Jenson Button was a very close third for BAR, but an engine change meant he would drop to 13th on the grid, a penalty which most expected to keep the Brit off the podium come Sunday afternoon. How wrong they were.

As Schumacher took the lead at the start of the race, McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen was the only man able to stay with the German. However, with a great tussle looking imminent, Raikkonen crashed out through no fault of his own on lap 14 after the rear wing came off his car at speed. With Fernando Alonso inheriting second place, Schumacher was never again threatened and attention switched to Button’s charge through the field. It culminated in a superb battle with Alonso, the BAR driver seizing what would eventually be a fairly comfortable second place.

David Coulthard finished fourth for McLaren, ahead of Montoya, who never recovered from a slow start, and Mark Webber’s Jaguar. Webber’s former team mate, Antonio Pizzonia, scored his first championship points, as Williams gave the Brazilian a race outing, taking over from fellow tester Marc Gene as replacement for the injured Ralf Schumacher. Takuma Sato took the final point for BAR, but Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello was out of luck. He lost a front wing at the first corner after running into the rear of Coulthard and then suffered a puncture on the final lap, bringing his car to a halt within sight of the line and leaving the Brazilian classified only 12th.

Driver standings after Germany (top ten):
1. M Schumacher, 110
2. Barrichello, 74
3. Button, 61
4. Trulli, 46
5. Alonso, 39
6. Montoya, 33
7. Coulthard, 19
8. Raikkonen, 18
9. Sato, 15
10. Fisichella, 13

Team standings after Germany:
1. Ferrari, 184
2. Renault, 85
3. BAR, 76
4. Williams, 47
5. McLaren, 37
6. Sauber, 18
7. Toyota, 8
8. Jaguar, 7
9. Jordan, 5
10. Minardi, 1

From here you can continue to part three, or go back to part one.