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The invincible Michael Schumacher was humbled in three races back-to-back. The Belgian, Italian and Chinese GP witnessed Michael finishing in positions other than the customary first. Still, competition couldn’t stop him from taking the podium in the Belgian and Italian GP where Michael finished in the second spot. The Chinese GP though was nothing short of a disaster as Schumi couldn’t get any better than twelfth.
Michael’s cloak of invincibility was challenged in the previous few races, and the fans weren’t sure whether to expect a comeback. But notwithstanding his recent finishes, Schumacher had already won his seventh title in Belgium as he finished ahead of Barrichello in that race. So, would Michael be at his explosive best or just take the losses in his stride?
Interestingly, Kimi in the McLaren finally got ahead of Michael to win in Belgium. He ended up confirming that he was one of Michael’s strongest challengers. And, of course, Barrichello was the winner in the other two races. Now, even if Michael wouldn’t win the race, there was a good chance that the other Ferrari would be the winner. The Ferraris were still good, but were they good enough to get Michael on top?
Let’s find out.
The 2004 Japanese GP: Qualifying
The qualifying session was shifted from Saturday to Sunday morning as the prevailing weather conditions did not allow a run on Saturday. Even the Sunday session had partly wet conditions which caused few qualifying upsets. The usual top runners found themselves exhausting their runs in wet conditions allowing the minnows to qualify higher up. That did not stop Michael and Ralf Schumacher from resuming their battle from the start of the season.
Ralf was the first to put up a dominating provisional pole time which Michael eventually conquered. Take a look at Michael’s pole run:
At the end of the second intermediate, Michael was just seven-thousandths of a second ahead of Ralf. That set us up to believe that the final time would be very close. But that was not the case. Michael qualified nearly half a second ahead of Ralf. Where Michael found the time in the last sector, only he would know. That was some run!
So, the two Schumachers were in the front. Mark Webber was next in the Jaguar followed by one of the known names and local hero, Takuma Sato, on P4. That brought up the top four racers on the grid.
The 2004 Japanese GP: Race Day
The 2004 Japanese GP had fans wondering if Michael could win again. Though Michael bludgeoned the qualifying, the race day was not quite the same. The last three races raised a bit of question on Michael regaining the top spot on the podium, however, with Michael we never say never.
Ralf Schumacher’s close presence meant that Michael would be on the lookout for the Williams’ blistering start. It all boiled down to the turn of the lights. The fact that Jacques Villeneuve, Michael’s erst-while championship challenger was there on the track, made the expectation that much higher. As the lights turned off, Michael and Ralf had a good start. Both of them rushed to the first turn closely followed by the BAR-Hondas. At the first turn, the order was Michael from Ralf, followed by Sato and Button.
Have a look at the race highlights here:
Sadly, Villeneuve’s Renault was far from challenging Michael as even his teammate, Alonso, overtook him. But the race was quite entertaining as all the top cars which could not qualify higher started to compete through the lineup. Barrichello came up positions, but one aggressive move against David caused a collision, removing both the drivers from the race.
Michael and Ralf, though, had no problems holding on to their positions. Michael once again showed the fans why he was dominating the whole season with a wonderful drive and his thirteenth win of the season. Ralf in his Williams came in second and brought yet another 1-2 finish for the siblings. That would be the last time that Michael and Ralf would finish 1-2 in a race.
How Did the 2004 Season Conclude?
The Japanese GP was the penultimate race of the season and also the last one that Michael won in the 2004 season. The victory was Michael’s thirteenth win which was a record as of 2004. The record had been equalled but not broken as of 2020. With the era of more F1 races per season, sooner or later that record could be challenged.
The last race of the season was the Brazilian GP which saw the homeboy Rubens taking pole position. Juan Pablo Montoya was close in P2 while Michael qualified in the fourth row.
Have a look at the race highlights:
Note: Loud music. Turn down the volume, or mute and watch.
Rubens did not have it easy in the front as Kimi wrestled the top spot from him by the end of the fourth turn. But it was Montoya’s day, and he put up a flawless drive to take his first win of the 2004 season, the last win for Williams as he was moving to McLarens for 2005, and the last win for Williams as a constructor until 2012.
Michael finished seventh and was more than happy to witness the celebrations from below. Michael’s teammate, Barrichello, was third on the podium while Kimi was second for McLaren. And that’s how the season ended, with Michael taking the title for an unprecedented seventh time.
Back to the Pits
Michael Schumacher won yet another race and the eighty-third of his career. The 2004 season had been an exceptionally great one for Schumacher as well as for the Ferrari team. Michael’s ruthless domination caused the FIA to come with changes for the 2005 season. Whether those changes would impact Ferrari and Michael was yet to be seen.
The Next Win..
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