Button and BAR come closest to beating the champions
Located quite literally in the middle of a desert, the spectacular Herman Tilke-designed Bahrain International Circuit provided the setting for round three of the 2004 world championship, bringing Formula One racing to the Middle East for the first time since the Moroccan Grand Prix of 1958. Sand made the track slippery off line, but the circuit proved a hit with drivers and fans alike, throwing up plenty of passing moves in an eventful and enjoyable race.
Track temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in practice were good news for the Michelin runners. As Williams and BAR dominated proceedings, Ferrari and Bridgestone quietly kept a watching brief. Come qualifying though, the champions pulled out all the stops. Aided by a slightly cooler track, and running light on fuel, Michael Schumacher took his third successive pole, with team mate Barrichello dutifully joining him on the front row. Williams clinched P3 and four, BAR five and six, while at the other end of the grid languished the luckless Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn falling victim to a ten-spot penalty after his McLarens engine failed in practice.
Ferraris strategy proved the right one. They led into Turn one and from there were never seriously challenged. Williams Juan Pablo Montoya was the only man able to stay vaguely in touch, but his third place evaporated when gremlins hit the FW26s gearbox late in the race. That left Jenson Button to fill the vacant podium spot for the second race in succession, following another assured and mature drive for BAR. Team mate Takuma Sato also earned his spurs, surviving a collision with Ralf Schumacher (for which the Williams driver was rightly blamed) and holding off a charging Fernando Alonso to take fifth.
Alonso had impressively climbed from 17th on the grid (he went off track during his qualifying lap) to finish sixth. This combined with Jarno Trullis fourth place, lifted Renault into second in the constructor standings. Ralf Schumacher recovered from his clash with Sato to take seventh place, while Mark Webber benefited from Montoyas misfortune to snatch the final point in an otherwise disappointing weekend for Jaguar. It was not as bad as McLarens mind. Both Raikkonen and Coulthard retired with mechanical problems, leaving the Mercedes-powered team with just four points from the first three races.
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