The Ferrari steamroller finally comes to a halt
After a raft of races in which the major teams have displayed incredible reliability, Monaco was an event in which some of the underdogs came away with points.
The happiest were Renault, albeit not an underdog. The French team had a superb weekend, with Trulli realising all the pre-race promise by converting his first pole position into his first Grand Prix win. Not only did that break the winning streak of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, it also gave Michelin its first win of 2004 and stopped Bridgestone. They should really have had second place, too, but for Alonsos misfortune in getting on the dirty line while lapping Ralf Schumacher. Nevertheless, the 10-point haul keeps the blue and yellow cars firmly in second place in the constructors championship, with 52 points to Ferraris 88.
Not too shabby for a bad racing car. Who said that? None other than Renault technical guru Pat Symonds, who remarked prior to the event that the best rule of thumb when considering the race is that it is never won by a good racing car.
And Renault were not the only team celebrating Trullis triumph. Eddie Jordan, who, back in 2001 ran Trulli in one of his cars, placed a four-figure bet on the Italian taking pole position, with odds of 14:1. Then he backed him to win, for four figures, at 20:1. The icing on the cake was seventh place for Jordans own driver Nick Heidfeld, who put in a storming race to score two valuable points.
There was less to celebrate at Ferrari. The reds had a tough weekend, but when you factor in Schumachers original fuel load, which took him through to lap 26 compared to the Renaults laps of 24 (Trulli) and 25 (Alonso), you see that although the champion qualified only fourth there was a valid reason. The F2004 is still the class of the field, and theres not much wrong with its rubber, either. Barrichello should have been able to challenge for the win in Schumachers place, but the Brazilian was troubled by a brake problem.
BAR also left Monaco with mixed feelings. Buttons second place just 0.497s away from victory was a tremendous result and further endorsement of the potency of this package, but Satos Honda engine failure was vexing to say the least. Another eight points, however, boost them to 40 and keeps them in third place in the standings.
Sauber, too, were delighted, even though they had what Peter Sauber described as a bitter-sweet event. Fisichella qualified brilliantly in 10th place, when you consider that, like Schumacher, he had fuel enough to have gone to lap 26. Sadly he only got as far as the exit to Tabac on lap three, before the Sato incident left him inverted on the barriers. He firmly believed that he could have finished fourth (possibly even third given Barrichellos problems) and the facts bear him out. It was then left to Felipe Massa to salvage something, and he drove superbly at the end on worn tyres to keep fifth place safe from Cristiano da Mattas Toyota. The Japanese team had a drama when Olivier Panis caused the first start to be aborted after a clutch problem which obliged him to start from the pit lane. Nevertheless, with three points for da Matta and one for Paniss gutsy and well-driven eighth Toyota opened their 2004 account and jumped up to seventh place, ahead of Jordan, Jaguar and Minardi.
Jaguar had a torrid time in Monte Carlo, with Webbers fires in practice, transmission failure in the race, and Kliens early departure. There were slim pickings for Williams and McLaren, too. The former salvaged fourth place for Montoya after he lost a lot of time unable to pass Heidfelds well-driven Jordan early on, but Ralf Schumachers race was cursed by gearbox gremlins. McLaren had an upturn in qualifying fortune and race performance, possibly because of the characteristics of Monte Carlo, but lost Coulthard in the Sato accident and Raikkonen after his engine suffered pneumatic valve gear problems. They needed points desperately.
Spare a thought for Minardi, too. At one stage Zsolt Baumgartner harboured aspirations to score a point, but had to be content with ninth place.
Even if things do return to situation normal at the Nurburgring in a weeks time, the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix will be remembered for a very long time.