Can anyone beat Schumacher? 25 Apr 2004
Three different teams on the podium at San Marino
Another masterful drive from Michael Schumacher saw the World Champion take a well-deserved victory in San Marino, keeping up his unbeaten record for the season with 40 points from four starts.
That was despite Jenson Button making the perfect getaway to the San Marino Grand Prix from pole here this afternoon. The 24 year-old Englishman led the first nine laps in his BAR until stopping for fuel - but after that even he had to admit that there was no stopping Schumacher and Ferrari.
"It's strange," Button said. "It's very difficult to overtake here so when Michael was behind me I wasn't too worried, until my first stop. Then he pitted two laps later and suddenly there was a huge gap from him to me. I was quite shocked."
After very heavy overnight rain had washed away much of the rubber laid in practice and qualifying, the opening laps were tricky as the grip level was low. But Button made a great start and opened a gap of 2.7s on the first lap as Schumacher got embroiled in a very tough fight with Juan Pablo Montoya.
The Colombian actually squeezed ahead briefly under braking in the Tamburello chicane, but was pushed back by Schumacher. When they got to Tosa Montoya kept trying the outside line after his initial attack was repelled, and was angered when Schumacher simply widened his line and appeared to push him on to the grass. Montoya said that the two of them made contact. Schumacher said that he didn't see him, but Montoya was not mollified. As they climbed the hill to Piratella, however, it was Montoya easing team mate Ralf Schumacher on to the grass on the left-hand side as the German attempted to exploit Montoya's lack of momentum. This did not improve their relationship, either.
While that was going on Button made the most of things, but after the first stops the best he could hope for was second place. This he achieved as Schumacher simply disappeared to score a perfect 74th victory - his fourth in a row.
"It was a great day for me," the world champion said. "A perfect result that helps me to forget yesterday's mistake. I guess you can't expect things to be perfect all the time!"
In his wake Button was at one stage 27s adrift, with Montoya a similar amount behind after consolidating third place. He conceded afterwards that it seems BAR have overtaken Williams in the performance stakes. In the closing stages Schumacher eased off, allowing Button to close to within 9.7s, but it was academic.
"Really, there is still a huge gap between us and Ferrari," Button admitted, "considering that I was leading for the first nine laps. If I knew why, we'd be working on it! It's very difficult. But this was a great result for the team, and our third consecutive podium shows the progress were are continuing to make.
While the race for the led became academic after 10 laps, there was plenty of interest all through the race. David Coulthard ruined his chances in an improved McLaren after losing his front wing against Alonso's rear wheels at the start, but the Renault driver escaped unscathed and drove superbly to pass team mate Jarno Trulli who held fourth place for many laps.
Alonso overtook after stopping later for his final stint, but was involved in an incident with Ralf Schumacher at Tosa on the 50th lap. As the Spaniard went for the inside line the German kept closing the door. They touched, and the Williams spun. Alonso carried on to catch and hound Montoya to the flag, but Schumacher, who had earlier been involved in a brilliant fight with Rubens Barrichello, had to settle for seventh place.
Trulli clung on to fifth, giving Barrichello a different gearbox and rear wing to stare at for many laps. It was a frustrating afternoon for the Brazilian, as he finished sixth.
Kimi Raikkonen drove a storming - and reliable - race for McLaren. Like Giancarlo Fisichella he did a two-stop race after starting from the back, and when the Sauber driver got baulked momentarily in the last corner the Finn was able to pass on the pit straight. That would be the key to scoring the final point, after Takuma Sato's eighth-placed BAR had blown up on the 57th lap.
The result gives Schumacher a straight 40 points to Barrichello's 24 and Button's 23, while Ferrari have 64 to Renault's 31. BAR and Williams are still inseparable, on 27 apiece, each having scored eight points this afternoon.
"It was a dream result for me, perfect except for the mistake yesterday," Schumacher said. But when he was asked if it meant something special on the 10th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna, he said: "We come here every year and we think every year of what happened to Roland (Ratzenberger) and Ayrton so, no, 10 years doesn't make it any more special."
And Button? The Englishman might not have won, but when you finish second to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari these days you know you have achieved something.