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Formula One 2004 Season Review - Part Three 22 Nov 2004

(L to R): Ross Brawn (GBR) Ferrari Technical Director , Michael Schumacher (GER)and Jean Todt (FRA) Ferrari General Manager , celebrate winning his seventh World Drivers Championship with his Ferrari team mates.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004 (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren, Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams and Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Brazil, 24 October 2004 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004 won the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai, China, 26 September 2004 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, 23 September 2004 Anthony Davidson (GBR) BAR Test Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Suzuka, Japan, 8 October 2004

Hungary, Belgium, Italy, China, Japan, Brazil

In the last of our three-part look at the 2004 FIA Formula One World Championship, we recall why racing fans were so glad to see Spa back on the calendar, revisit Ferrari’s amazing double comeback at Monza, and remember China’s stunning Grand Prix debut. Plus a typhoon in Japan and a Williams whirlwind in Brazil…

Round 13 - Hungary - August 15
Winner:
M Schumacher
Pole: M Schumacher
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

After three weeks off, Jenson Button found himself centre of attention as the teams arrived at the Hungaroring. His controversial announcement that he planned to move to Williams for 2005 was one that puzzled many, given BAR’s recent great form. As it turned out, it was to be a relatively poor meeting for the Honda-powered team, with Button finishing only fifth and team mate Sato sixth.

The weekend belonged to Ferrari, although, as had become their way, they didn’t give too much away in practice. At various points McLaren, Williams and BAR all looked threatening, but come qualifying and the champions showed their true colours. Schumacher and Barrichello comfortably locked out row one, with the BARs and Alonso’s Renault lining up behind them. Notably at Williams, Ralf Schumacher stand-in Antonio Pizzonia out-qualified team mate Montoya as they took P6 and P7. The McLarens, meanwhile, hampered by a poor tyre choice, were effectively nowhere, with Raikkonen tenth and Coulthard 12th.

BAR’s race went wrong the moment the lights went out. As the Ferraris led into Turn One, both Sato and Button made poor getaways, the former dropping from third to eighth on lap one. In contrast, Alonso rocketed to third, a place he would keep until the flag, with Montoya similarly benefiting from a strong opening lap to go on to fourth place. Ultimately, it was uneventful race, controlled from the front by Ferrari, whose one-two finish clinched them a sixth successive constructors’ crown and gave Schumacher a record 12th season win. The German also left safe in the knowledge that one more win at the following round in Spa would make him drivers’ champion for a seventh time.

Round 14 - Belgium - August 29
Winner:
Raikkonen
Pole: Trulli
Fastest Lap: Raikkonen
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

After a one-year hiatus Spa-Francorchamps returned to the Formula One calendar in August, much to the delight of teams, drivers and fans. And that was before the race had even begun – a race which turned out to be one of the best of the year. If Hungary had been the season’s low point in terms of spectator excitement, then Spa was its zenith. Six different leaders, three safety car periods and only ten cars running at the finish. Michael Schumacher may have clinched his seventh drivers’ title at the end of the 44 laps, but he was beaten fair and square by Kimi Raikkonen and a resurgent McLaren. It was just the pick-me-up the sport needed after Ferrari’s domination of the campaign to date.

Raikkonen showed his intent on Friday by setting the fastest time in dry conditions. But then the notorious Spa weather played its joker, reducing what should have been an hour and a half of Saturday practice to just 15 minutes. Come qualifying and it was still raining hard. It eased just enough for Jarno Trulli to try his luck on intermediates and the gamble paid off, the Renault driver taking the second pole position of his career. Ominously though, Schumacher running in much worse conditions and on full wet tyres, almost pipped him at the end. Raikkonen was only tenth.

Drama came early in the race. As the fast-starting Renaults sprinted into a predictable lead, chaos reigned behind. Before the field had reached Eau Rouge, Webber had hit Barrichello, Raikkonen had made contact with Massa, Button had hit Massa, Sato and Bruni had spun and Pantano had in turn gone into Bruni. As the safety car was deployed four cars - Webber, Sato, Bruni and Pantano - were out of the race and another six - Button, Barrichello, Baumgartner, Massa, Panis and Heidfeld - were pitting for repairs.

After the restart, Schumacher continued to go backwards. Having lost out to Alonso and Coulthard at the start, he was then quickly passed by Raikkonen and Montoya. On a charge, Raikkonen was also quickly ahead of Coulthard, leaving just the Renaults ahead. But their luck was short lived. Alonso spun out on his own oil, while Trulli, struggling for pace, was nudged into a spin by a forceful Montoya at the newly-reprofiled Bus Stop chicane. Coulthard, meanwhile, was the first to survive a right-rear Michelin puncture, a sign of things to come, which severely compromised his race.

Safety car number two appeared after Button similarly suffered a right-rear tyre failure. He was less fortunate than Coulthard, spearing into Baumgartner’s Minardi, taking both men out of the race. At the restart, Raikkonen led Schumacher, the Finn cleverly slowing the pace to a crawl to ensure his rivals Bridgestone’s would be as cold as possible. A few laps and another Michelin puncture (this time Montoya) later he was repeating the process, after Coulthard’s collision with Klien’s Jaguar prompted the final safety car period. This time the Finn made a break for it and there was little Schumacher could do. He wrapped up title number seven, but with Ferrari soundly beaten into second and third it was Raikkonen who stole the limelight at Spa.

Round 15 - Italy - September 12
Winner:
Barrichello
Pole: Barrichello
Fastest Lap: Barrichello
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

After being soundly beaten at Spa, Ferrari knew they had to regain their form if they were to avoid the ultimate embarrassment – a defeat on home soil in front of the unforgiving tifosi. And find it they did. A one-two finish was the result, but the champions made a meal of it to say the least. So much so in fact, that their rivals were left reeling, not quite able to believe they had lost even after such huge mistakes from the red team.

Practice was a close-run affair, with Williams, McLaren and Renault and BAR all mixing it with Ferrari. In qualifying though, Barrichello proved unbeatable, with Montoya squeezing ahead of Schumacher to prevent an all-scarlet front row.

With race day came the unexpected – rain. Though the track was rapidly drying by the time the cars took to the grid, there was still a tyre dilemma – intermediates or dries. Most went for the latter, but poleman Barrichello opted for the former. It was a decision he quickly regretted. Despite seizing the lead at the start he was struggling within a handful of laps and was forced to make an unscheduled stop, handing the lead to Alonso and then Button.

But the Brazilian’s misfortune was nothing compared to his team mate's. Schumacher made contact with Button at the second chicane on lap one, spun, and dropped to 15th. His fight back through the field was impressive. Both he and Barrichello found pace that simply decimated the opposition. It allowed Barrichello to regain, and keep, the lead, despite his extra stop, and Schumacher to move all the way back to second by the flag. Button, who had genuinely looked set for his and BAR’s maiden win, was unable to respond and had to be content with yet another podium. Alonso’s hopes ended when he spun into the gravel 13 laps from home, while early contender Montoya was hampered by an engine management glitch which left him fifth behind the BAR of Sato.

Despite Ferrari’s dominance, it was a very good day for BAR. Their 11-point haul, coupled with Renault’s failure to score, lifted them into second place in the constructors’ championship. It was not such a good day for Gianmaria Bruni. The Minardi driver was caught in the midst of a dramatic pit lane fire and was forced to retire from his home race. Fortunately it looked much worse than it was, and the Italian was unhurt.

Round 16 - China - September 26
Winner:
Barrichello
Pole: Barrichello
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

The most important race in Formula One history was how one senior team member described the Chinese Grand Prix. Few could argue that the stunning Tilke-designed Shanghai circuit and its facilities set new standards that many European venues could only dream of, but would the new track produce a great race? After 56-laps on Sunday afternoon, a resounding ‘yes’ was the answer, unless that is you were a die-hard Schumacher fan.

The champion, after declaring the track as the best he’d ever seen, went on to have the worst weekend of his Formula One career. Never before had he started from the back of the grid, and never before had he finished as low as 12th. Consolation came from yet another calculated win for Ferrari and team mate Rubens Barrichello.

The weekend’s other big stories were Ford putting the Jaguar team up for sale and the return of former champion Jacques Villeneuve, drafted in by Renault for the final three rounds of the season to replace Jarno Trulli. And with Ralf Schumacher finally back at Williams after a six-race absence, and Timo Glock stepping up to a race seat at Jordan after the termination of Giorgio Pantano’s contract, it was a Grand Prix of fresh, if not strictly new, faces.

In practice all the usual contenders were looking strong, but Williams, and in particular Ralf, were especially competitive. Come qualifying though, and tyres came into play, with the Bridgestones seemingly more effective over a single lap. They gave Barrichello pole from Raikkonen, and Massa his best ever grid spot in fourth. They weren’t, however, much help to Michael Schumacher, who was too hot into Turn One and promptly spun off into the gravel. This, and a subsequent engine change, meant he would start the race from the pit lane.

The race did not provide the spectacular comeback Schumacher fans were hoping for. There were brief periods of blistering pace (he set the fastest lap right at the end of the race), but in between there was a suspect collision with Klien, another spin and a puncture. Fortunately, there was also a fantastic race going on up front between Barrichello, Raikkonen and Button. Again it was ultimately BAR who came closest to beating Ferrari, but in the end Button simply didn’t have the pace to match the Ferrari. Raikkonen may have had the pace, but poor pit-stop timing handicapped the Finn’s race. At the chequered flag just 1.4 seconds separated the three of them. The opposition, led by Alonso’s Renault, was half a minute or more down the road. Villeneuve’s comeback was subdued, the Canadian coming home 11th after qualifying 12th. He did at least beat old rival Schumacher, though.

Round 17 - Japan - October 10
Winner:
M Schumacher
Pole: M Schumacher
Fastest Lap: Barrichello
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Mother Nature provided the story of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend in the form of Typhoon 22. Friday’s practice sessions were run in torrential rain, the Bridgestone-shod cars of Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella finishing one-two in both. On Friday evening, with the typhoon’s arrival imminent, race organisers took the unprecedented measure of cancelling both Saturday practice sessions and moving qualifying to Sunday morning. In the end, Suzuka escaped unscathed after the storm changed path at the last minute, but it set up a blockbuster day of Formula One track action.

Come Sunday morning the rain had finally stopped, leaving a wet but drying circuit. Jarno Trulli took advantage of the ever-improving conditions to top pre-qualifying on his first Grand Prix outing for Toyota. He couldn’t quite maintain it in qualifying proper, but still took a very respectable sixth on the grid. Up front it was an all-Schumacher affair, with Michael on pole alongside brother Ralf. Mark Webber was a revelation for Jaguar in third, beating the BARs of Takuma Sato and Jenson Button into fourth and fifth. Giancarlo Fisichella put his Sauber seventh ahead of Coulthard’s McLaren, but team mate Felipe Massa ended up on the back row after yet another spin at the Spoon curve.

At the start Michael Schumacher took a lead that he would never relinquish, even during his pit stops. Ralf stayed in touch for a while, but never looked a serious threat. He was too quick for the BARs, however, who had to be content with third and fourth, Button’s two-stop strategy eventually proving superior to Sato’s three-stopper. It was enough to all but clinch second place in the constructors’ championship for the Honda-powered team, as key rivals Renault could manage no better than fifth for Fernando Alonso.

Kimi Raikkonen, who a year earlier had been on the brink of stealing the title from Schumacher, took sixth, despite being outperformed by team mate Coulthard for most of the weekend. The Scot’s race ended after he was rear-ended by Barrichello, the incident also causing the Ferrari driver’s retirement. Montoya finished a distant seventh, just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, who picked up yet another point for Sauber.

Round 18 - Brazil - October 24
Winner:
Montoya
Pole: Barrichello
Fastest Lap: Montoya
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, Exclusive TV images

Rubens Barrichello had never won his home Grand Prix. In fact he had only finished it once. Surely that would all change this year – after all, it would have made the perfect ending to a perfect season for Ferrari. That was the dream script and the Brazilian was clearly up for the part – at the end of Friday practice he was fastest, at the end of Saturday practice he was fastest and at the end of qualifying he was, sure enough, fastest.

Saturday was not with out its drama for Ferrari, however. After first practice was cut short due to stray dogs on the track, Michael Schumacher then crashed heavily at the end of session two, forcing him to switch to the spare. In an unfamiliar car he could only qualify eighth, which was converted to 18th on the grid by the engine-change penalty. Up front it was Barrichello from Montoya and Raikkonen, with Massa starring in front of his home crowd to qualify fourth.

The race began on a damp track, with almost all drivers starting on inters. Barrichello led twice in the early stages, but as conditions improved, things gradually developed into a thrilling two-horse race between Raikkonen and Montoya, the future McLaren team mates even running side-by-side down the pitlane in a move that would later see the Finn penalised. With his Bridgestone tyres seemingly less effective than his rivals’ Michelins, Barrichello was left to finish a lonely third. It was not quite the day fellow Brazilian Massa had expected either. The Sauber driver, who briefly led amid the early pit stops, only just scraped into the points, despite his strong grid position.

There were no last-minute upsets in the standings. BAR were confirmed as runners up, despite Jenson Button’s early retirement with an engine failure, while Jaguar, in their final Grand Prix under Ford ownership, held on to seventh place, though it had little to do with their drivers, who managed to collide on lap 24, putting Webber out of the race and leaving Klien to finish a lowly 14th.

Thus, after a gruelling 18 races, the 2004 season ended. It could hardly have had a better race for its finale, with the Montoya-Raikkonen battle providing a glimpse of what could become the most exciting team pairing since Prost and Senna.

For the final championship standings, click here. To go back to part two of the season review, click here, or for part one, click here.