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Michael was riding high on seven wins from eight races, and there were no signs of the competition being ready to topple him from his perch. 2004 was the first season since 1990 where more than two constructors looked strong. It was just a coincidence that Michael was at his supreme best, and therefore, made the competition appear average. In any other season, BAR-Honda, Renault and Williams would be tough teams to counter. And we haven’t even mentioned the McLarens team, which was plagued with reliability issues and yet was quite good.
To add to the competitors’ misery, Rubens too had four second-place finishes, making Ferrari’s position in the constructors’ table quite strong. Such results left one with the idea that the 2004 season was a race to the finish among every other team but Ferrari. Ferraris were guaranteed a place on the podium no matter how they started or where they started on the grid.
The only silver lining was that the season was approaching the mid-point and many teams would have come up with their upgrades. Those upgrades could help to bridge the gap between the Ferraris and the other constructors, or even make them quicker. To hope for the latter would be wishful thinking, but then, from Ferrari’s perspective, it would be naïve to underestimate the competition too.
Michael was one driver who went out there to win, irrespective of the challengers. Could he win one more race this season? Would the U.S. GP also go Ferrari’s way? Let’s find out.
The 2004 United States GP: Qualifying
Just when qualifying after qualifying made an exciting contest between the top five constructors, the United States GP digressed from the trend. After a long time, the competiton appeared to be between the Ferraris alone, with the other teams qualifying at a distance until the dying hours of the session.
Michael and Rubens were quick, and it was the latter’s day out. Michael found it tough to match Rubens’ pace. Take a look at Rubens’ pole lap.
Note: The video does not show the timer, but you can see Rubens’ thumbs up at the end of the lap. Enjoy the Ferrari’s roar.
Close to the finish, the BAR-Hondas were inching towards the prancing horses’ time. Takuma Sato was the faster of the two cars and qualified P3. The first three rows appeared to be reserved for teams alone, as Ferraris took the first row, followed by BAR-Honda in the second and the Williams in the third row. Jenson Button on P4, Juan Pablo Montoya on P5 and Ralf Schumacher on P6 brought up the top six on the grid.
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The stage was set for an exciting race day.
The 2004 United States GP: Race Day
The start of the GP witnessed something unusual on the grid. Just before the start of the formation lap, Montoya was out of his car and on the grid. He had some problems with the car and rushed to the pitlane through a roaring grid ready for the formation lap. Never was such a scene witnessed before.
What was further comical about the entire episode was Montoya running between his stranded car on the track and the spare car, because of some miscommunication about which car to use. The drama notwithstanding, he eventually started in his spare car from the pits. All the hard work was of no use as the stewards disqualified him later in the race due to this episode.
The start for the other top cars, in comparison, was reasonably straightforward. Barrichello kept his lead from Schumacher while the most significant beneficiary was Alonso who sprang up from ninth to third. That was Renault's electronics in action again.
Take a look at the race highlights:
Interestingly, by the second lap, Michael slipstreamed Barrichello to get ahead at the banked part of the circuit. It was a masterly overtake on the start-finish straight. The talk of the race was, however, the failure of the Michelin tyres, which caused two cars to drop out: one was Fernando Alonso while the second was Ralf Schumacher. The latter had a near-fatal accident and had to be rushed to the hospital. Those Michelin tyre incidents were a precursor to the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix where all the cars on Michelin tyres pulled out of the race due to safety concerns.
However, the 2004 race did not see any more issues due to tyres, and Michael took the chequered flag from teammate Barrichello while Sato did well to finish on the podium in third place. And that’s how the U.S. Grand Prix concluded.
Back to the Pits
Michael continued his extreme domination of the 2004 season with yet another win. There was no stopping him, and despite a few doubting Thomases, it was crystal clear that Michael would be taking the 2004 crown too. The only question was by when.
The Next Win...
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