30 May 2004
Europe 2004 - Too easy for Schumacher.
Oh, how he would have wished this could have been the story of Monaco! Michael Schumacher simply cruised to his sixth win of the 2004 Formula One season, untroubled by anything more sinister than a couple of wayward backmarkers as he re-established his superiority over his rivals.
The closest anyone got to deposing the world champion was at the start but, even then, Takuma Sato and Jarno Trulli found themselves to busy scrapping over the crumbs from the king's table that they eventually ceded second spot to Kimi Raikkonen. With the less pacy McLaren installed at the head of the pack, Schumacher simply made hay while a weak sun shone on the Michelin runners and disappeared into the distance.
Fourteen seconds to the good after just six laps, Schumacher may have betrayed the fact that he had qualified on a lighter fuel load than his main rivals, but also made full advantage of his reduced load to build a gap he and the Ferrari team thought adequate to keep him in position to move back to the front when the first rounds of stops cycled through.
As usual, Ross Brawn's planning worked a treat, with Schumacher stopping first of anyone, on lap eight, and rejoining in seventh - immediately behind the chasing sextet and having extended his stop to take on extra fuel for the middle stint.
This left Raikkonen at the front of the field for the first time in a season where he had been expected to chase Schumacher all the way to the crown, but the McLaren driver quickly showed that his pace was also the result of a light fuel load as he stopped on the very next lap.
Grid positions would have suggested that next in line to inherit the lead would be either Sato or Trulli, but their opening lap skirmish had served neither particularly well, with the second Renault of Fernando Alonso leaping into third as the field came back past the pits. Sato managed to hold on to P4 at the end of the lap, but Trulli had dropped a further three places, to lie seventh, behind both Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. It would prove to be the undoing of his podium hopes....
Already undone, however, were the similar hopes of the two Williams drivers and, perhaps more optimistically, Cristiano da Matta. The revised opening corner complex at the Nurburgring was designed to promote greater overtaking at the German venue, but brought with it the inevitability of a first corner accident. The 2004 European GP did not disappoint and, given their past record, it was little surprise to see the two Williams-BMWs make first contact.
On this occasion, it was Juan Montoya at fault, finding that his FW26 didn't want to turn in with the amount of speed it was carrying, and clipping the rear of team-mate Ralf Schumacher. The impact was enough to turn the two white-and-blue cars nose-to-nose, with the inevitable result of broken front wings on both. While Montoya was able to recover and repair to the pits, however, Schumacher's day was done - but just to make sure, the German accelerated his broken car off course... and over the nose of da Matta, an innocent bystander caught up in the conflict.
If one half of the 'local' family was making an early exit, however, the other looked set for the day, gradually picking up places as his rivals made their respective pit-stops. Alonso's lead lasted just a lap before he handed over to Sato, who enjoyed a further couple of tours at the front before peeling off. This allowed Barrichello to take up the reins, the Brazilian having decided - as in Spain - to employ a two-stop strategy in the hope of beating his Ferrari team-mate.
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