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The 2004 F1 Season
With two wins from two races, Michael and the Ferrari team sent a subtle message to the other teams. The message was unmistakable, and it read that Ferrari would be dominating proceeding in the 2004 season. It was relatively early to be sure, but then Michael had done this over the past three seasons, barring the 2003 one. So, it was not for Ferrari to be cautious but for the other teams to be wary.
The only silver lining was the next race in Bahrain. Bahrain was the newest addition to the F1 race calendar, and therefore, none of the drivers would have knowledge or experience of the circuit. In a sense, it should level the field for recent debutant drivers as against the past masters like Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Then again, that was just a hope and not a certainty that other drivers would find the new track easier than Michael.
The only fact of the matter was that the cars’ reliability would be a significant factor in winning the race in Bahrain. Despite the Ferrari being fast, the only teams that were able to close the gap were the ones with reliability. Otherwise, the McLarens and Williams looked good but were nowhere close to reliable, and that allowed the BAR-Honda and Renault to make it to the top consistently.
So, would the Bahrain GP have surprises for us or would it be an easy win for Ferrari yet again? Let’s find out.
The 2004 Bahrain GP | Qualifying
There was news that some brake issue was causing problems for Michael Schumacher. There was even speculation that he would have asked for a change of material used for the brakes to make it work as desired. While it sounds odd, drivers do have a say on their requirement for the car. For example, it was Ayrton Senna who had requested the length of the steering column to be increased for the Imola GP in 1994. And it was done. Though it ended up fatal for the legend, the example showcases the fact that engineers go lengths to make the car comfortable for the driver.
So, what about this apparent struggle Michael was having? Well, it provided an excellent opportunity for other teams to qualify higher up and even out-qualify Michael. Do we hear wishful thinking? Well, in part, yes.
Michael did get the changes as expected, and his drive was twitchy on the circuit. However, that did not stop him from putting up yet another pole lap. Even the commentators did not expect him to do it. Have a look at the run:
How good was that despite the car not wanting to behave? Immaculate. Michael took the pole by clocking nearly four-tenths of a second faster than Barrichello. The front row belonged to the Ferraris while the Williams took the second row. Juan Pablo Montoya took P3 while Ralf Schumacher took P4. Interestingly, Ralf had done a 1:29 minute lap in the first qualifying which was faster than the pole time of Michael in the second qualifying. Somehow, Ralf could not recreate that run.
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Anyway, now it boiled down to the race day. The circuit allowed a lot of overtaking opportunities, and therefore, it was not just the start but also how well the cars performed throughout the session that would decide the order. Let’s jump to the race day.
The 2004 Bahrain GP | Race Day
The start of the race for the very first time at Bahrain saw a familiar image – Michael and Rubens pulling away at the beginning. However, at the first turn, Michael locked his brakes as it was still cold but remained first ahead of Barrichello. Montoya piled up on Rubens but couldn’t find a way past him. Fernando Alonso started seventeenth and ended up colliding and breaking his nose wing. He went in for a change and begun competing from lap 2 in real earnest.
Once again, there appeared no need to track the Ferraris, but as with the first two races, the action and fun were at the back.
Take a look at the race highlights:
After dropping down places due to the incident at the beginning, Fernando made good his return as he caught up with the cars ahead. He even got the better of Christian Klein in the Jaguar, the person responsible for his nose wing damage. For Raikkonen, it was yet another race of disappointment as the McLarens’ engine blew up and with it any chances of finishing in the points.
But good things were happening around as well, as Jenson Button started getting used to finishing third as he was well poised to take the last podium position. Jarno Trulli in the Renault was few seconds behind Button but not in a position to launch an attack on Button. The real battle was for the fifth place where Takuma Sato’s BAR-Honda was constantly under attack from Fernando Alonso’s Renault. However, Sato could manage the pace and keep his place. And that’s how the race ended.
Michael Schumacher completed yet another flawless drive despite the issues with the brake. Rubens Barrichello finished second in the other Ferrari just a second down from Michael.
Back to the Pits
Michael won the third race of the 2004 season and was perfect in his outings. Any doubts on Ferrari’s performance being an aberration was quickly put to rest. It did appear that another dominating season from the Ferrari camp was on the cards. Then again, we were yet to see the mid-season resurgence among teams. It would be interesting if any team emerged to challenge the Ferraris!
The Next Win..
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