San Marino GP 2004 - Schumi puts Button in place
25 April 2004
Jenson Button's dreams of a first Formula One victory in the San Marino Grand Prix were crushed beneath the wheels of the relentless Ferrari steamroller, as Michael Schumacher drove imperiously to his 74th career win.
The German was initially content to play second fiddle to the man who has become his biggest challenger this season but, as soon as Button pitted for the first time, he turned up the wick and effectively put the result beyond doubt.
Button made a good getaway from his maiden career pole, while the world champion suffered from being on the 'wrong' side of a grid that, like the rest of the circuit, had been reduced in grip by an overnight thunderstorm. While Schumacher then had to fend off the attentions of those behind him, the BAR was able to sprint into a clear lead.
Schumacher could have dropped to third in the opening few corners, but benefited from the fact that Juan Montoya made a poor start from the inside of row two and was not quite close enough to use his momentum to pass the Ferrari into Tamburello. The pair were still dicing by Tosa, where Montoya attempted to go around the outside, only to find himself eased onto the grass as Schumacher took his rightful line.
While the incident finally freed the world champion from the melee, Montoya's attempts to recover caused Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher to take the grass on the left-hand side of the rise to Piratella. The snaking FW26 eventually regained the racing surface, but had dropped into the clutches of a group that would keep him company for much of the ensuing 61 laps.
The list of potential rivals was already reduced by one after David Coulthard continued McLaren's miserable start to the season by losing his front wing at Tamburello. The Scot had made a good start from eleventh on the grid, but was caught out by the rate at which the leading group braked and clipped the back of Jarno Trulli's Renault as he tried to take avoiding action. The necessary pit-stop dropped the McLaren to the back of the field, where it was only slightly behind the similar car of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn had also made a good start from the very back of the grid, but quickly found himself bottled up by the Saubers, Jaguars and Toyotas.
With Montoya shaken from his tail, Schumacher was able to begin his pursuit of Button, who had opened out nigh on three seconds over the pack by the end of the first lap. Relentlessly, the gap begin to shrink as Schumacher used his Bridgestones to full effect in the opening laps, eventually settling to just within a second of the BAR as the first round of pit-stops approached.
Not around to make a change of tyres, Giorgio Pantano had already departed his home event after running into the gravel trap on lap six with a hydraulic problem, but the Italian would be the only retirement until the second half of the event.
When the pit-stops started in earnest, Button ducked in two laps before his main pursuer, and Schumacher then took control of the event. With a clear road ahead of him, the German began banging in laps that would have been too god for most of his rivals in qualifying, eventually securing enough of a gap to ensure that he emerged from his own stop at the head of the field.
From that point on, the advantage was extended except for when the Ferrari found itself in traffic and, coupled with what appeared to be a long stop for Button, suggested that the Briton had switched onto a two-stop strategy. Where Button had led by a round a second prior to lap nine, he inherited a growing deficit that rose to around 16secs by the time the second round of stops was in full swing.
Those hoping that the BAR driver may still have a trump card to play with one fewer stop to complete were disappointed when Button arrived back at his box for another helping of fuel and rubber - and did so before the race leader.
With the battle for top spot having become strung out as Button appeared to struggle with a poor second stint, attention switched to those in its wake, where Montoya ran solo in third place, ahead of an increasingly frenetic battle for fourth between the two Renaults, Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso had risen from the bottom half of the top ten through a combination of good starts and interesting tactics, stopping later than their rivals and making up ground.
With the pale blue cars staying out on track, the battle for position switched to the pits where Barrichello and Schumacher Jr stopped in tandem for the second time on lap 28. Both Ferrari and Williams crews did well, with Schumacher just getting out ahead of his rival, maintaining their positions. When Trulli stopped a couple of laps later, however, the Renault crew got him back into the fray between Schumacher and Barrichello, with Alonso dropping to eighth after his second stop.
The numbers were reduced by two in short order as Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni calling it a day when he encountered a sticking brake and Cristiano da Matta slithered off the road shortly after emerging from a drive-thru penalty.
Entering the closing stages, and Schumacher held as commanding a lead as he had enjoyed all afternoon, and could begin to ease back on his pace. Button was equally comfortable in second place, with Montoya gradually slipping back towards the squabbling group behind him, and again stopped ahead of the race leader. An eight-second stop was good enough to get him on his way without a loss of position, but it could not compete with the six-second effort dished up by Ferrari, confirming Schumacher's advantage.
Barrichello and Montoya pitted on the same lap this time around, but there was never any danger of the former catching the latter without a degree of finger trouble creeping into the Williams team's work. One lap later, Schumacher Jr was in, but, again, the German resumed ahead of his Brazilian rival without too much trouble, leaving the attention focused on Renault.
Trulli's stop was quick enough to retake the track ahead of Barrichello, but the real gainer was Alonso, who did not stop until lap 48 and then came out in fifth spot. This allowed the young Spaniard to quickly catch up with Schumacher Jr, and the two came together at Tosa two laps later. This time Schumacher came off worse, spinning down behind Barrichello while Alonso was able to carry on, delayed on slightly, in fourth place. The incident, however, was referred to the stewards for further consideration.
Alonso's pace was unabated and, over the final ten laps, closed remorselessly on Montoya, sensing a podium position. The two crossed the line almost nose-to-tail, but it was the Colombian who prevailed. Behind them, Trulli fended off Barrichello, with an even smaller gap covering Renault and Ferrari at the chequered flag. Ralf was no longer a factor, and only just managed to remain the final unlapped runner, coming home 58secs adrift of his brother.
The final point-scoring spot was filled by..... Kimi Raikkonen, as the luckless Finn saw the end of a grand prix for the first time this season. It had not been an easy ride for the man who was expected to provide Schumacher's closest title challenge this year, and he had to resist a determined pursuit from Giancarlo Fisichella in the closing stages, but he finally opened his account after starting dead last.
The retirement list was swelled late on by Nick Heidfeld, who suffered transmission problems on his Jordan, and Takuma Sato, whose uprated Honda V10 expired in the biggest possible way, giving the BAR team some concern over the health of team-mate Button's unit.
While the Briton backed off dramatically to ensure he made the end of the race, there was no way he would have been able to catch the leader, who seemed to have everything under control. The margin of victory was officially a shade over nine seconds, but it might as well as have been a lap for all that the pack saw of Schumacher after the first round of stops.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 62 laps 1hr 26min 19.670secs
2. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +9.700secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +21.600secs
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +23.600secs
5. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +36.200secs
6. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +36.600secs
7. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +58.100secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
9. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
10. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
11. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
12. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
14. Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth +2 laps
15. Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth +4 laps
Rtd Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda 56 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford 48 laps completed
Rtd. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota 32 laps completed
Rtd Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth 22 laps completed
Rtd Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford 6 laps completed