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The 2004 F1 Season
The 2004 U.S. GP briefly witnessed the McLaren team return to its glorious past, with David Coulthard qualifying P2. Would that be the trend to watch out for the next few races? We would know for sure. It was a heartening sign as one of the oldest constructors on the circuit was back in the game.
BAR-Honda and the Williams were in their elements and the closest to the Ferraris in terms of performance. However, the prancing horse was in a league of its own. The competition over the last few races was interesting for sure, but the result was the same nonetheless. Michael Schumacher’s domination was unchallenged, barring the Monaco GP. Jarno Trulli was the only driver other than Schumacher who could register a win in the last ten races. That spoke volumes of the Ferrari’s invincibility.
The same old hopes of midseason changes making teams competitive were keeping the viewers glued to their screen. That said, even if there were resurgence, it would just be too little too late because Michael had already won ninety points out of a probable hundred. As the legendary Murray would say during his commentaries, it is one thing to catch up with Michael but totally another to pass him. That would appear true for the points table as well.
So, would it be one more Ferrari win? Or would the resurgent McLarens do something out of the box? Let’s find out.
The 2004 British GP: Qualifying
The qualifying session was planned with the race in mind. So, a few teams opted for a higher fuel load, thereby requiring just two stops on race day, while the others went for a lighter fuel load so that they could qualify higher and start stronger. Ferrari seemed to be on the two-stop strategy; however, their qualifying hardly indicated so.
Both the Ferraris were in the front row midway through the session, and it was a clear indication of the quality of the car that Ferrari had made: even with a higher fuel load, fast enough to put the grid behind them. Ferrari stayed dominant until a certain Raikkonen planned to crash the party.
Raikkonen stamped the resurgence of the McLarens in bold at Silverstone. The Finn drove a phenomenal lap, making up time in the last two sectors despite being down in the first by four-tenths of a second. Take a look at the flying lap:
As Martin Brundle said, he was electric in the car. No one had expected him to take pole, but it was wonderfully done, by seven-hundredths of a second. He led Barrichello and Michael. After the Mika Hakkinen era, there was once again a flying Finn making things challenging for the Ferraris.
The day, though, did not end in that order. Jenson Button too had a great run, taking P3 and relegating Michael to P4. That’s how the top four stayed for the day. Now, it was all down to the race day and hope against hope for a reliable McLaren.
The 2004 British GP | Race Day
By the British GP, Renault’s electronics aiding the car’s launch was the talk of the town. Any thoughts and hopes of beating it were far out on the horizon. But as it happened Renault drivers qualified too far down the grid to pose any serious threat to the leaders. So, it did look like the Ferraris might fancy their chances against Kimi in the McLaren and Button in the BAR-Honda.
Michael’s heavier Ferrari might not be a challenge as much as Barrichello’s. So, a great start was in the offing. However, at the turn of the lights, Kimi started like he was rocket-launched. By the first corner, there was broad daylight between him and the other cars. The Renault’s would have been surprised at the jet start that Kimi had. Take a look at the race start and the highlights:
I am sure you would have noticed the gap that he had opened in front to the other cars by the first turn. It was huge, and by the end of the first lap, the gap was more than three seconds. Kimi had a phenomenal run and was in line to become the second man in the 2004 season to upset Michael’s win streak.
However, Michael returned to that part of the race strategy which he had so well mastered. After Kimi’s first pitstop, Michael stayed out and did some lightning-quick laps which gave him enough time to pit and come ahead of Kimi. From there Michael managed the race pace. Everyone noticed that the McLaren was fast, and Kimi, especially, was all over Michael. A brief ‘Safety Car’ deployment allowed Kimi and Barrichello to finish their third pitstop and still emerge close to Michael. Which meant that the lead racer had to keep pushing right to the finish as Kimi would be relentless. The safety car removed all possibilities of Michael cruising to the finish.
Kimi did not fail to impress. He kept pushing right to the end with Michael taking the chequered flag just two seconds ahead of the Finn. Barrichello was another second behind Kimi. Both the Ferraris once again finished on the podium, but it was the McLarens and Kimi Raikkonen who got the standing ovation. The young Finn was set to emulate the Flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen.
Back to the Pits
Michael Schumacher had won ten races out of eleven and on points was beyond other drivers, barring Barrichello. The kind of form that Michael was in prevented any other driver from having a chance at the championship for the 2004 season. The only person who had a realistic opportunity was Rubens, and that was all Michael had to worry about.
© 2020 S K