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The French Grand Prix would start without one prominent driver in the front – Ralf Schumacher. The crash in the U.S. GP had caused spinal fractures resulting in the German having to rest to recuperate. He was deemed to be out of action for at least twelve weeks. The Williams team would therefore rely heavily on Montoya to bring in the points.
Michael's run was flawless, and even before the race started, it was a foregone conclusion that the French GP would be in the Ferrari's kitty. The only victim of this ruthless domination were the fans coming for a tough competition. However, Michael's and Ferrari's fans wouldn't mind those outings.
The season had reached a stage where Michael was nearly twice ahead in points from the closest competing driver from other teams. The only one close enough was Barrichello, his teammate, from Ferrari. As such, the drivers' title wouldn't conclude in a hurry as Rubens too was having a great run.
The French GP was a track where Michael had won six times since 1994. As such, he knew the circuit well and was good to dominate the proceedings unless the BAR-Honda, Williams or Renault had other plans. Judging by the previous races, any upset was hardly in the offing.
So, would it be another Ferrari domination? Let's find out.
The 2004 French GP: Qualifying
Well, none of the fans would have expected what was in store during the qualifying. It wasn’t the known names like Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato or Jenson Button who challenged Michael but it was Fernando Alonso, Trulli’s teammate. Not only did Alonso champion his car well but he did it well enough to end up on the pole. Incidentally, this was one race where Rubens did not have much of a good run.
Michael did challenge Alonso’s lap time, but it was just not good enough. Take a look at Michael’s pole attempt.
Michael was good in the first two sectors but couldn’t hold up on the last sector. That is where Alonso was flawless and took the pole.
Have a look at Alonso’s pole lap:
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Note: No timer shown. This was the pole lap.
The comparison is clear on the last sector where Michael slid over two chicanes while Alonso kept it in control. That was what made the difference. And that’s how the front row ended with David Coulthard qualifying on P3 on the back of some substantial upgrades. Jenson Button on the BAR-Honda completed the top four cars on track.
The 2004 French GP: Race Day
Any hopes of Michael running away with the race were put to rest with Renault's electronics launching Alonso quite well. The Renault's system, in fact, brought Trulli to third place ahead of David and Button. Michael was positioned well between the two Renaults. Alonso, visibly, had good speed as Michael maintained the distance but in doing so, was pulling away from Trulli.
Have a look at the race highlights:
Michael remained behind Alonso even after the first two pitstops. It was the third pitstop which changed the order. It appeared that the Ferrari had taken much lighter fuel as compared to the Renault and that was good enough to come ahead. The job was not over yet, though. Michael, in a lighter Ferrari, pushed like crazy opening up enough lead over Alonso for one more pitstop.
The fourth pitstop was the clincher and something that the opposition had least expected. It was a strategy well put together and thus allowed Michael to finish in the front nearly ten-seconds adrift of Alonso.
But the story of the day was Barrichello’s push from tenth place to the podium and that too on the last couple of turns to the end. Rubens piled up enough pressure on Trulli in the other Renault to cause him to lose attention and thus snatched the third spot. So close was the race that Rubens finished just half a second ahead of Trulli. That put the two Ferraris on the podium once again.
Back to the Pits
Michael once again won at the back of a strong Ferrari strategy which took a potential victory from Alonso’s pocket. That also meant that Michael got his fourth win on a trot since the Monaco loss. In total, Michael won nine races from ten that he started. An enviable start to the season!
The Next Win...
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