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France 2004 - four stops to victory 28 Jun 2005

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 leaves his pit stop.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Race Day, Magny Cours, France, 4 July 2004 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 006 battles with Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Race Day, Magny Cours, France, 4 July 2004 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault 2nd celebrates on the podium.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Race Day, Magny Cours, France, 4 July 2004 A disconsolate Jarno Trulli (ITA) walks in after the race.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Race Day, Magny Cours, France, 4 July 2004 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates on the podium.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Race Day, Magny Cours, France, 4 July 2004

There were a number of changes ahead of last year’s Magny-Cours race, but would the result be another? Tests had revealed two cracked vertebrae for Ralf Schumacher following his crash at the previous round at Indianapolis, so Williams tester Marc Gene was drafted in as replacement. 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).

There were 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 David Coulthard second in the first session and Kimi Raikkonen topping the second, though the times were very tight indeed. That trend continued in qualifying - unless your name was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard’s pole was safely clear of Michael Schumacher and the closely-bunched chasing pack, with Coulthard a season-best third, and Jenson Button fourth.

As expected, both Renaults made superb starts, with Alonso first into Turn one and Jarno 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, the German 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 Rubens 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 to the flag 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 Juan Pablo 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 - Zsolt Baumgartner’s Minardi - 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. How much can change in a year.

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