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US analysis - some win, some lose 21 Jun 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 leads Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR celebrates after finishing 3rd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar Cosworth R5 retires from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota TF104.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004

So what to make of the United States Grand Prix?

First of all Ferrari did exactly what everyone expected them to do, dominating comfortably to score another one-two. But their pit stop strategy under the initial safety car was thought through so quickly that Michael was able to stop so efficiently on lap 11 that he regained the track without even losing his lead. Equally the five second delay that Rubens faced waiting for the team to service the champion was instrumental in determining the final result.

Yet again, however, the red cars proved bulletproof, and yet again all the problems visited themselves on their rivals.

Loss of engine power on his BAR stopped Jenson Button’s eight-race run in the points, after the Englishman reported that his car was going exceptionally well following his first pit stop. Renault lost Fernando Alonso because of a tyre failure. Williams lost Ralf Schumacher to tyre failure occasioned by a puncture, and Juan Pablo Montoya to disqualification because he took over the spare FW26 within 15s of the grid formation lap. There had been a problem engaging the external starter on the race car. Coming so soon after the double disqualification in Montreal that was a very bitter pill for team and driver to swallow. Montoya was angry that they were not informed much sooner than 57 laps into a 73 lap race.

Jordan fought for what became sixth place on merit, and were thus bitterly disappointed, having already lost Giorgio Pantano in the first corner melee, when Nick Heidfield’s excellent run was terminated after 45 laps by a pneumatic leak on his Ford V10.

Jaguar, too, had tough breaks. First Klien got shoved sideways in Turn One at the start and was then collected by Massa. Then Webber’s spirited run up to seventh place went awry when the latest Cosworth V10 developed an oil leak and ignited itself on lap 61.

Sauber were another team to lose a car in the first corner. Then, after getting stuck behind Heidfeld early on, Fisichella was honking on towards seventh place when he got a puncture on lap 48. The need to slither home for a replacement set of tyres also damaged an hydraulic coupling, and the ensuing leak ensured that even eighth place slipped away on lap 66.

There were happy people, however, apart from Ferrari. BAR lost Button but Sato’s spirited drive to the first Formula One podium of his career kept the team in the hunt after Renault for second place in the constructors’ stakes and ensured that the team maintained their record of scoring points in every race. Renault, however, also saw Trulli drive beautifully from the back of the grid to fourth place, a couple of small slips notwithstanding. His five-point score left their respective points as Renault 66, BAR Honda 58.

For Toyota, Panis’s four points were crucial, hoisting the team back ahead of Jordan and up to eight overall, and providing the great encouragement of their old car finishing the race only 37s adrift of Schumacher. With the Gascoyne-modified TF104B due soon, the team could be on the way up again.

McLaren, too, had a lot to be pleased about, for the second race in succession, even though both Raikkonen and Coulthard’s two-stop strategies were spoiled by the need for extra stops. Raikkonen made two because of a faulty engine air compressor; Coulthard one because a piece of polystyrene debris (probably from Alonso’s accident) lodged itself beneath the car. The Finn believes that the team have made a step forward with the MP4-19, with which he posted the fastest straight-line speed with 350 kph in the race, and was adamant that he could have finished on the podium without his problems. Again, this is a team moving forward again.

Then there were Minardi, where one of the first people to congratulate Paul Stoddart after they scored their first point of the season was Bernie Ecclestone. Some of the bigger teams regard it as a disaster if they don’t finish on the podium, but to Minardi that solitary point marks the conquest of their motorsport Everest.