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Schumacher unstoppable at the Nurburgring 30 May 2004

Pole sitter Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004 congratulates Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race Day, 30 May 2004 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 006 damaged his front wing trying to overtake Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR finished third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race Day, 30 May 2004 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW26 and Cristiano Da Matta (BRA) Toyota TF104  crash out at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Race, 30 May 2004

Ferrari one-two as Barrichello withstands Sato charge

Michael Schumacher led off from pole position and scored his 76th Grand Prix victory at the Nurburgring this afternoon, and there was nothing his opposition could do about it.

The world champion ran into the distance in the opening laps and had constructed a devastating 17s lead by the seventh lap. By this point it was of course crystal clear that he was on a low-fuel opening stint, and therein lay the only crumb of comfort Ferrari threw to others this weekend. The stop went perfectly enough for Schumacher to drop only to seventh place, and he soon made up all the ground, and more, when his rivals made their own stops.

It was a sign, however, that Takuma Sato’s amazing speed in yesterday’s pre-qualifying had actually worried Ferrari sufficiently for them to change their strategy. All season they have tended to have a little more fuel than the competition, but this time Schumacher had sufficient only for eight laps. Kimi Raikkonen and Jarno Trulli stopped on the ninth, Fernando Alonso the 10th, Jenson Button the 11th and Sato the 12th.

A small point, perhaps, but telling, since it indicates that Ferrari do not believe that they are as far ahead as some others do. It was difficult this afternoon, however, to believe that anyone can touch the red cars, though Sato and BAR gave it a pretty good shot.

By lap 13 the Ferraris were running first and second as Schumacher pulled up behind Rubens Barrichello, who had opted for a two-stop strategy. The Brazilian came in to refuel on lap 15, and after that Schumacher was never again headed. His next stop came on lap 28, his final one on lap 44. It was the perfect afternoon for him, and it put him right back on track after the adventures in Monte Carlo.

The interest lay in what happened in his wake. Jarno Trulli made his usual great start, but Sato made another blinding lunge down the inside of the Renault to snatch second place going into Turn 1. Unfortunately they then managed to outfumble one another going down the hill, so by the end of lap one Raikkonen was second from Alonso, Sato, Barrichello, Button, Trulli and Panis. That was the way it stayed while Michael waved goodbye, until the pit stops. Everyone knew that Raikkonen’s performance was flattered by his low fuel load, but it became academic on lap 10 when another Mercedes V10 blew up spectacularly.

As the race settled down Sato emerged as Ferrari’s main challenger, with Button valiantly tagging along ahead of the recovering Renaults. Williams, however, had lost Ralf Schumacher in the first turn after he was biffed by team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, and McLaren lost two-stopping Coulthard on lap 26 when he too suffered engine failure. Being caught behind the Scot had scuppered Button’s chances of challenging Barrichello, but now he got going to consolidate fourth place. The Englishman looked set to finish there, but his team mate wasn’t happy with the notion of third. On lap 46 he caught Barrichello napping going into Turn 1 and barged his way up to second. Unfortunately he did so at the cost of half his front wing, so in he came for a new nose at the end of the lap, and up moved Barrichello and Button. Sato’s hopes even of fourth faded two laps later when, exiting the final turn, his engine did what it had done at Monaco and exploded internally.

That left Trulli to beat Alonso for fourth and fifth, while sixth was the subject of a good dice between Giancarlo Fisichella’s Sauber and Mark Webber’s Jaguar. The Italian started from the back (with a 10 grid place penalty after Friday’s engine failure) with a very big fuel load and, did not stop until lap 24. He stopped again on lap 44, and had enough over Webber to contain the Australian to the flag. It was a fine performance from both.

Montoya recovered well to grab the final point on a day of disaster for Williams, while Felipe Massa recovered from a poor start and just held off former team mate Nick Heidfeld, who thrust his Jordan within half a second by the finish after a great drive. Olivier Panis, Christian Klien, Giorgio Pantano, Gianmaria Bruni and Zsolt Baumgartner completed the finishers.

Schumacher naturally extended his championship points score to 60 from Barrichello (46), while the battle for third is hotting up still between Jenson Button (38) and Jarno Trulli (36). Alonso is the next closest challenger on 25. In the constructors’ stakes, Ferrari have 106 points to Renault’s 61, with BAR third still on 46. Williams have 36 and Sauber 10.