Britain 2004: Schumacher supreme at Silverstone
11 July 2004
It was a dominant Michael Schumacher today at Silverstone in a frantic paced British Grand Prix, taking a composed victory with a superlative drive underlying the true class of a champion at the very top of his game.
Schumacher did face a challenge from the unlikeliest of quarters, in 2004 season terms at least, as Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren showed that the B spec car is truly a revelation relative to the dog that was the original MP4-19, but were in not for a safety car period brought about by Jarno Trulli's Renault destroying itself at Bridge, Schumacher would have won by a country mile.
The weather at Silverstone was variable to say the least as the F1 cars lined up on the grid at Silverstone. Overcast, humid and sticky one moment cold and windy the next. Conditions that were sure to affect contemporary F1 cars such is their sensitivity to climatic change.
Come the lights going out Raikkonen was a revelation. We're used to the Renaults shooting off better than anyone else come race start but this time it was Kimi who blitzed away such that he made 3.5 seconds on the first lap to his nearest contender. Later the Bridgestone runners were to say it was the weather conditions which helped Kimi's Michelins, but still…
The actual Renault near the front at the start disappointed at the start, Trulli starting on the grid in fifth place and ending the first lap in that very same position. Much was the same for many of the runners in Silverstone.
About the only movement at the start was Japanese driver Takuma Sato causing Juan Pablo Montoya some interest by passing the Colombian, though the Williams man was soon to gain that position back.
Come the end of the third lap Raikkonen had stretched out a mammoth 4.3 second lead and set a new race lap record in the process, but the Bridgestone runners behind were getting to operating temperature too now and their charge would soon begin.
It was charging action too at the other end of the starting grid with another driver working wonders, Giancarlo Fisichella on a weekend where Sauber had made a quantum leap forwards. Seems like Ferrari finally sent the instructions on how to set-up last year's car. The start had seen Fisi move up from his twentieth place start to seventeenth, but that was only the start of his progress forwards.
Once Rubeniho's tyres were up to temperature it was the Brazilian's turn to set the records as Michael's no.2 was the first man into the 1min 19s, though Raikkonen was to retort immediately as the two driver traded quick laps.
By lap seven Barrichello still had the edge, and the times were now down to a 1min 19.463secs. The gap to Kimi leading the race had narrowed from the excess of his four-second plus breakaway, but the McLaren was still comfortably in the lead of the race, which is something that many had not expected to see this season after the team's poor start.
Behind Barrichello, local boy Jenson Button was handily quick in the BAR, not running times quite as impressive as Barrichello ahead, but still certainly in touch. If BAR were doing what they have done before this season and running with a decent amount of fuel as well as having qualified well, Brit Button could well have been on for a good show.
Come the eighth lap the pitstops began with Fernando Alonso who had qualified in sixth, been docked ten places for his engine change, then worked his way into twelfth place before heading for his first tyre and fuel change. Come the next tour it was the turn of the quickest man on track, Barrichello, to take to the pits for a 8.2 second stop.
Kimi was to stay out a few more laps before taking the impressively quick new McLaren for its first stop of three of the afternoon. A McLaren trading fastest lap times with a Ferrari with the McLaren heavier on fuel, now that is impressive. Jenson Button and the BAR also pitted on the same lap too, meaning that prediction of the Brit being that heavy on fuel were wide of the mark.
With the lead trio having stopped it was time for Michael Schumacher to be left the track. Guess what? He was fast. You get the feeling he's done this before, as Schumacher reeled in lap after lap of new fastest race laps in the low 19s then breaking into the 18s.
”Obviously I was amazed about how the race went, I thought we had a very good strategy for the race but am amazed that it paid out so early,” said Schumacher of this stage of the race. “Leading the race so early basically after my first pitstop coming in front and ahead of everybody, that was not the plan honestly, but my car was just so going so well in those last laps when I had free track, and I was able to close the margin I had on Kimi which he pulled out on his first eleven laps and that was just phenomenal”
Phenomenal was certainly the word. Helping Michael along was Finn Rakkonen finding out just how difficult Takuma Sato can be to pass when racing for position. Sato, with a reliable car but not the pace this weekend, kept the flying Finn behind him for a couple of laps and for that reason along will appear on Michael Schumacher's Christmas card list.
Taku's team-mate Jenson Button had benefited in the first pitstop period, he entered the pits behind Rubens Barrichello on track, but once Barrichello had made his stop it was the Brit who was the lead car in this particular battle.
Such was the benefit of Schumacher's quick laps and Raikkonen's hold-up that the Ross Brawn calculator was pressed into action once more and when Schumacher did pit at the end of the fifteenth lap, a 9.3second stop was made giving the German plenty of Esso points for his fuel take. A two stop for Michael Schumacher now looked to be on.
It was close though, when Schumacher took to the track. Judged to perfection, Schumacher was just ahead of Raikkonen and the Finn did put up a good fight, but close though he was there was to be no pass.
Staying out all this time was the Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella. From starting from the pits the Italian with the newly improved Italian-Swiss wagon was up to seventh place as those ahead of him had either been passed or had taken to the pits.
The first retirement was to come next with Olivier Panis. The veteran Frenchman had pitted and was back on track with new boots and fuel on board only for his in car extinguisher to put a dampener on his race prospects. Au revoir Olivier.
By this stage the frontrunners were lapping the Minardis, with Zsolt Baumgartner looking far stronger in race conditions up against his Italian team-mate. Through the traffic Kimi was closing in on Schumacher, the Finn having less fuel than the German.
By the 22nd lap the gap between Kimi and Schumi was down to a mere half a second, but doing anything about the man in front was not to happen. Come the end of the next lap Fisichella was finally in for his first stop, whilst shortly afterwards a Spanish civil war that had been waged on circuit between countrymen Fernando Alonso and Marc Gene was taken from the track and to the pits as both the Renault and the Williams pitted at the same time.
It was a cue for second pitstops to begin and on lap 29 Kimi pitted from right on the tail of Schumacher. It looked like good tactics from McLaren as the Finn was effectively stuck behind the German and an earlier stop might allow him to leapfrog Schumi, though they would both still then have to make their last stops.
The second wave of stops passed without too much excitement save for Giamaria Bruni attempting to leave with his fuel rig still attached. Ferrari played an advantage to Barrichello giving the Brazilian a quick stop and allowing him to take the position of Jenson Button, the Ferrari no.2 exciting the pits right in front of the Brit, but his car looked better on track than Button's at this stage of the race. A podium at home would be difficult for the BAR, and try though he did lap after lap, Barrichello's car slowly gained the advantage and gradually moved away.
Schumacher now at the top of the field looked to have a good enough lead to pit and return to track in the lead of the race, though it would be close. Returning to the circuit in the lead was not essential as Raikkonen still had to make his final stop, but that was exactly what Schumacher achieved on lap 37, returning to the circuit with enough fuel to go to the end of the race and glory.
Kimi was soon with Schumacher on circuit but the German was hardly going to let the McLaren past, even though he knew that Raikkonen had yet to make another stop. The timing of that stop was brought about on lap 41 after a massive accident for Jarno Trulli in the Renault at Bridge. Trulli later said there was a problem with the rear suspension; at the end of his roll there were a lot of problems with the car…
Trulli emerged unscathed, a testament to the strength of modern F1 cars, and the incident had triggered a raft of pitstops as the safety car toured the circuit. With Kimi having stopped under the yellows, Schumacher's one stop in hand advantage was now nulled and the restart and race to the flag would be interesting, though there were two backmarkers on track between the McLaren and the Ferrari.
The pace car pitted at the end of the 45th lap but the Toyota of Cristiano da Matta and the Jaguar of Christian Klien. This duo was soon dispatched, but it had given Schumacher vital breathing space. Raikkonen wasn't the only person to have benefited from the yellow period as Juan Pablo Montoya was now right with Button and Barrichello and the battle for third, and right behind him there was soon to be the Sauber of Fisichella.
Kimi did close right up with Schumacher, those Michelins warming quicker than the Bridgestones could, and Schumacher even made reference to the safety car in his opinion having driven too slowly on its last lap before coming in. No matter, Sschumacher was not about to let Raikkonen past and the Ferrari took Schumacher to his eightieth race win and meant he has now scored ten perfect tens from the eleven races this season.
“That took away my comfortable lead I had built up by that stage and I was probably lucky that I had two other drivers between me and Kimi because the warm-up performance of his tyres and my tyres was noticeably different and had he been directly behind me thanks to the safety car that was going very, very slow and didn't look to put any effort in his drive,” said Schumacher of the safety car period. “I had very cold tyres and that didn't really help me for the first couple of laps. We came close. We had a nice little fight for a couple of laps then my tyres came back and I was able to open again the lead.”
Kimi came home in second, just two seconds adrift of Schumacher in the McLaren that the team have only been racing with for two weeks, Montoya came home happy with fifth place and having seen the revival of McLaren no doubt added to his happiness.
Barrichello took third on a day when he wasn't a match for Schumacher even on the circuit where he outqualified his team-mate and won last year. This meant that Button's barmy army will have to wait for another year to see Button win at home.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 60 laps 1hr 24mins 42.700secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +2.1secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +3.1secs
4. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +10.6secs
5. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +12.1secs
6. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +12.8secs
7. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +19.6secs
8. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +23.7secs
9. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +24.0secs
10. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +24.8secs
11. Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda +33.7secs
12. Marc Gene Spain Williams-BMW +34.3secs
13. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
14. Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford +1 lap
16. Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth +4 laps
Rtd. Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford 47 laps completed
Rtd. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 39 laps completed
Rtd. Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth 29 laps completed
Rtd. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota 16 laps completed
Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 18.739secs lap 14