Montoya rounds off season in style 24 Oct 2004
It was a demanding race at the end of an intense season, but Juan Pablo Montoya proved himself the master of Interlagos with a convincing drive to victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
And in scoring his fourth and final success for Williams he laid down a marker to his closest challenger Kimi Raikkonen whom he will partner at McLaren next season. The Finn finished just over a second behind after a fabulous race, while further back, behind lonely third placeman Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian flag could have covered Fernando Alonso, Ralf Schumacher, Takuma Sato and Michael Schumacher. Felipe Massa scored the final point for Sauber, having actually led the seventh lap of the race.
Rain at the start threw things into confusion. Most of the track was damp, but in his 150th and final race for McLaren David Coulthard, and the two Renault drivers, opted to stay on dry tyres as everyone else went for intermediates. Initially conditions favoured the intermediate runners and Barrichello grabbed the lead from pole position. But Raikkonen immediately slammed by on the exit to Turn Three, and some fabulous cut and thrust racing followed as Jenson Button, Juan Pablo Montoya, Felipe Massa, Takuma Sato and Ralf Schumacher joined in to battle wheel to wheel. It was another reminder that every grand prix is better if the track is slightly wet. This time Button was an early retirement, however, any hope of victory evaporating with a blown engine on lap four.
A lap later Barrichello grabbed the lead from Raikkonen as the track began to dry, and Ralf Schumacher led a horde of pit stoppers anxious to get rid of their intermediates. He was followed in by Raikkonen, Montoya, Sato, Jarno Trulli and, down out of the top 10 after a spin on lap three, Michael Schumacher.
Coulthard and Villeneuve were still struggling, but Alonso was driving beautifully. As Barrichello pitted Massa inherited the lead for a lap before also pitting on the seventh tour handing Alonso the lead. But he was now out of step on pit stops. Behind him Raikkonen and Montoya raced each other down the pit lane and back out on to the track, resuming their fight until the Colombian squeezed his Williams ahead of the McLaren that he will drive next season. These two then took first and second once Alonso had pitted for fuel and fresh dry tyres on lap 18, and that set the mould for the rest of the race.
Ralf Schumacher led the chase, and further back Barrichello was fighting to recover his hopes of a home victory. They would be denied. Third place gave him his first home finish in 10 years and the final podium place, but it wasnt quite the result hed hoped. The truth was that Michelin enjoyed an advantage over the Bridgestones in the conditions that prevailed until the end.
Montoya opened more than a five second lead on Raikkonen, and interest switched to Schumacher Jnrs pursuit of Alonso. Like his elder brother earlier in the race, he found the Spaniard a tough nut to crack.
Further back, the two Jaguars ended the teams time in Formula One racing by colliding in the first corner at the start of the 24th lap, when Christian Klien closed the door on challenging Mark Webber. The Australian retired, the Austrian pitted for a new front wing and finished 14th.
The final rash of pits stops began on the 47th lap, and Barrichello now jumped ahead of both Alonso and Schumacher Jnr. On lap 51 the German squeezed ahead, but a lap later he overcooked the entry to Turn One and Alonso sped by again. Over the final laps these two were chased by Michael Schumacher, while two-stopping Takuma Sato emerged between the Renault and the Williams after his final stop on lap 54. They four of them circulated nose to tail, but a small error by Sato saw Ralf sneak up to fifth on the 69th lap.
As if that four-car fight wasnt enough, Raikkonen set some hearts fluttering at Williams when he ran five laps further than Montoya before his final stop, which came on the 55th lap. Over the closing stages he brought the gap down to as little as half a second, but Montoya proved equal to the challenge and kept his head to finish 1.022s in front at the chequered flag.
Massa was delighted to take the final point on home ground, and even more so to have led for the first time, but Giancarlo Fisichella was frustrated after being squeezed off the road on the opening lap and having to stage a strong recovery drive. They were eighth and ninth, ahead of Villeneuve who was much more competitive as he got the hang of the Renault in the closing laps.
Trulli won the Toyota race from team mate Ricardo Zonta, the Brazilian struggling with the balance towards the end. Timo Glock brought his Jordan in 15th, and both Minardis finished, Zsolt Baumgartner leading Gianmaria Bruni home. The only other retirement was Nick Heidfeld, whose Jordan stopped on the 16th lap with a clutch problem.
Thus, after a gruelling 18 races, the 2004 season ended. It could hardly have had a better race for its finale.