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No stopping Ferrari in incident-packed US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - race report 21 Jun 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 crosses the line to win the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R24 crashes at turn one after a tyre failure.
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 Paul Stoddart (AUS) Minardi Team Principal and Zsolt Baumgartner (HUN) Minardi celebrate scoring one point.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW26 crashes at turn 13 and is attended to by the medical team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, 20 June 2004

Ferrari scored another memorable one-two in today’s US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, but it was a race fraught with drama that saw four cars eliminated in a first-corner accident at the start, Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher crash heavily with suspected tyre failures, and Juan Pablo Montoya disqualified after taking the spare car within 15s of the start of the grid formation lap.

Montoya’s drama began even as the cars were about to leave the grid for the final formation lap, as a mechanical problem forced the Colombian to sprint back to the garage to take the spare car and thus to start from the pit lane.

Then came the contretemps in the first corner. Fernando Alonso made a fabulous start in his Renault to snatch third place by running round the outside of Kimi Raikkonen and Takuma Sato. But further back Cristiano da Matta got squeezed and set off a chain reaction that involved Gianmaria Bruni, Giorgio Pantano, Felipe Massa and Christian Klien. None of them could continue, and as the carnage was cleared away the safety car was deployed until the end of the fifth lap.

When the safety car pulled into the pits Schumacher got a great run on Barrichello and grabbed the lead long before they reached Turn One. But soon Alonso made a spectacular exit from third place at the start of the ninth lap when the right rear Michelin tyre rolled off the rim. His Renault crashed heavily into the wall in Turn One. Moments later Ralf Schumacher’s Williams crashed as it exited the final corner. The German spun through 360 degrees before crashing backwards into the outside wall at more than an estimated 360 kph. When his car stopped it was in the middle of the track, facing oncoming traffic. Out came the safety car again, as medics first determined that he had not suffered any spinal injury and then took him to the local Methodist Hospital.

Now brother Michael led, having joined the throng of drivers who pitted immediately the safety car came out for the second time, ahead of Sato, Button, Webber, Montoya, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Trulli, Panis and Heidfeld. The BAR drivers pushed the fuel-heavy Schumacher hard before making their stops on laps 25 (Sato) and 24 (Button), but Jenson’s race was over by lap 27 when he lost power as he shifted into seventh gear and pulled straight into his pit garage.

Schumacher’s second pit stop, on the 42nd lap, went perfectly but handed the lead back to Barrichello, who just failed to make up sufficient ground to keep the lead after his own stop on lap 50. The two Ferraris then raced very closely until Michael began to pull away slightly towards the end. “It was close at times,” Schumacher said, “but I think we were clean.”

Behind them Montoya fought hard with Jarno Trulli and Takuma Sato for third until he was finally shown the black flag on lap 58 for illegally transferring to the spare car. Two laps later there was more excitement when Sato slipped ahead of Trulli going into Turn One. Both slid wide on to the grass, but got back on the track without further problem and finished in that order. In fifth came Olivier Panis’s Toyota, as the Frenchman celebrated his 150th Grand Prix, and sixth and seventh eventually fell to the McLarens of Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard after Giancarlo Fisichella’s Sauber picked up a puncture on lap 48. The Italian recovered to run eighth until an hydraulic leak, which as probably a result of an off-course moment while creeping back to the pits with a puncture, forced him to retire on lap 66. There was also bitter disappointment for Mark Webber when his Jaguar’s engine blew up on lap 60 when he was running in a points-scoring seventh place, and for Nick Heidfeld who drove like a tiger in the early laps to hold off Fisichella, Webber and the McLarens. His Jordan retired on lap 45 with engine trouble. The final point went to a delighted Zsolt Baumgartner and Minardi.

The result doesn’t change much in the drivers’championship, but moves McLaren ahead of Sauber in the constructors’.