Doubted by some sceptics during a winter of private testing, Ferrari
showed that it had little to hide by trouncing the opposition as the Australian Grand Prix
opened Formula One 2004.
Six-time world champion Michael Schumacher and team-mate Rubens Barrichello
cruised to an unchallenged one-two finish at Melbourne's Albert Park, with only Renault's Fernando Alonso
looking likely to threaten the dominance. The Spaniard's challenge was ebbing away by mid-race, however, allowing the red machine to disappear into the distance.
Such was Schumacher's imperious pace, even Barrichello had little to offer in terms of resistance, eventually coming home almost 14 seconds adrift of the champion, despite Schumacher cutting his pace by around six seconds a lap in the final three tours. The Brazilian later revealed that he had been suffering brake problems in the latter part of the race, but that was the only concern in the Ferrari
camp as it - and Schumacher - demonstrated that the hunger for another title still burns.
Having annexed the front row in the new-look qualifying session on Saturday, Schumacher and Barrichello simply had to make a good start to ensure that the race was headed by red. After that, relevant strategies and the ongoing tyre war between Bridgestone and the numerically-dominant Michelin would determine exactly how the race would pan out.
Even there, however, the gods were on Ferrari's side, as the Michelin-friendly hot weather that had ruled on the opening days was replaced by cooler, more cloudy, conditions that favoured Bridgestone. And, with expected rivals Alonso, Juan Montoya and Jenson Button
all pitting for fuel at the same time as the leaders, things always looked good for the Scuderia.
Schumacher made the perfect start as the lights went out, with Barrichello slotting in behind his team leader to provide protection from those behind. It was not the second row pairing of Montoya and Button who posed the biggest threat, however, as Alonso ignored the fact that launch control had been outlawed during the off-season and made a demon getaway from fifth.
Despite having to take to the grass as Montoya found grip, Spaniard was ahead of Colombian as they neared the first corner. In hindsight, Montoya will probably wish that he had allowed his rival ahead and dropped in behind the Renault, but his Latin temperament got the better of him. Later on the brakes than Alonso, the Williams
driver suddenly found himself with less road than he had thought and ran through underneath the R24 and onto the grass, instantly losing more places before scrabbling back onto the track in seventh.
Alonso's avoiding action, which involved him jumping on the brakes as Montoya shot across his bows, had a knock-on effect down the order - although not with anything like the severity as the Ralf Schumacher-Rubens Barrichello incident of a few years ago. In this case, it was the Spaniard's team-mate, Jarno Trulli, who came off worst, and then only with minor contact that would affect his race pace thereafter. The Italian was up to fifth by the end of the lap.
Like Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen
and Mark Webber
made poor starts, losing places off the line, while David Coulthard
gained two spots with a decent getaway. The Finn's race was to be short, too, as, having been repassed by a determined Felipe Massa
on lap ten, the rear of his McLaren-Mercedes locked up and gently spun many people's pre-season favourite onto the grass and out of the running for points.