Spanish GP 2004 - No bull from Schumi
9 May 2004
Michael Schumacher duly notched up a record-equalling fifth win of the season at the Spanish Grand Prix, as his main rivals all failed to capitalise on a rare problem in the Ferrari camp.
Although he was beaten away at the start of the 66-lap race, the world champion repeated his Imola patience by waiting until the first round of pit-stops to overhaul early leader Jarno Trulli, and then proceeded to stamp his authority on the field. Even though Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello was running an alternative two-stop strategy in an attempt to beat the German, Schumacher emerged from his own second stop ahead of the Brazilian, and then overcame a defective exhaust to come home 13secs clear.
Schumacher had qualified on pole position, against his own expectations, but, while all eyes were on the predicted battle with Imola adversary Juan Montoya on the run to the first corner, it was a lightning start from Renault's Trulli that proved the talking point, catapulting the Italian - who was suffering from a throat infection - into the lead by turn one.
Schumacher fended off a challenge from the other second row starter, Takuma Sato, going into the corner, but Montoya was not a factor, having bogged down off the start and dropped to fourth, just managing to get round turn one ahead of the second Ferrari, which Barrichello had started from fifth.
Further back, Jenson Button's expected charge from a lowly 14th got off to a slow start, the Briton not making any impact on those ahead of him when the lights went out, but Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Giancarlo Fisichella and Giorgio Pantano all gained places among their respective opponents. Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld were the biggest losers at the getaway.
Trulli continued to lead throughout the first stint, with Schumacher unable to close onto the tail of the Renault, which set two fastest laps in its nine-lap run at the front, but it appeared that the German was biding his time before taking the advantage, just as he had done while chasing Button at the San Marino GP. True to form, once Trulli stopped, the points leader banged in the fastest first and second sectors of the afternoon to eke out an margin on the Italian by the time he stopped a lap later.
Schumacher had been rumoured to have 'gone light' in qualifying to ensure that he had a front row start - and opportunity to lead early on - which would have suited his Bridgestone tyres, but eventually pitted at the same time as most of his direct rivals. When he resumed, he enjoyed a couple of cars lengths lead on Trulli, albeit now in third place as Sato and Barrichello inherited the leading places.
Sato continued at the front for a single lap before making his own pit call, allowing Barrichello into top spot. The Brazilian had been willing to divulge that he was 'happy' with his qualifying time, despite it being over a second off his team-mate's pole, and it quickly became apparent that he was taking a two-stop approach to the event, despite the conventional wisdom being that three was the route to go.
Wisdom appeared to be in danger while Barrichello headed the field, however, the Brazilian holding a ten-second lead over his team-mate before finally peeling into the pits on lap 17, but it would all revert to normal as he struggled to match his early pace with new tyres and a full fuel load, allowing Schumacher to establish his position at the front.
There had only been one retirement by this stage, as Zsolt Baumgartner spun his Minardi out of last place on lap 18, but problems were already beginning to manifest themselves in the middle order.
Montoya, having made his tardy start, found that he could keep Barrichello at bay until his pit-stop, but called for more front wing and attention to his brakes before resuming in the lower points places. Button had struggled to make any ground in the early stages, moving up to 13th past Cristiano da Matta on lap three, but then finding himself back down in 14th after the pit-stops as the two-stop runners gained time on him. The two McLarens were already keeping the Briton company, however, and, although both would finish the race, neither would score points, underlining the Woking team's current malaise.
Seven laps after the two Ferraris had completed their first round of stops, Schumacher held a 22secs advantage over his team-mate, and the dye appeared to be cast when the German made his second stop. This was where Barrichello had to get the hammer down and ensure that the world champion emerged behind him with a stop apiece to complete, but it was not to be. As Schumacher got back up to speed at pit exit, Barrichello was still coming down the main straight, and had to settle for second.
Behind the two red missiles, Trulli continued to hold third place, now ahead of Renault colleague Alonso, who had disposed of Sato during the second round of pit-stops, with Giancarlo Fisichella disputing sixth with Montoya courtesy of his different strategy. The Colombian, meanwhile, had called for more adjustments to his front wing as he continued to struggle with the Williams, but had a comfortable gap back to team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who had the two-stopping Sauber of Felipe Massa for company.
If Olivier Panis had seen any hope of a points finish recede following an average opening stint, it disappeared completely when he was adjudged to have exceeded the pit speed limit and was called in for a drive-thru' penalty. That left the Frenchman down among the McLarens, but his TF104 was not long for the race, eventually calling it a day at half-distance with hydraulic failure. Joining him on the sidelines at roughly the same point was the second Minardi of Gianmaria Bruni, which pulled off with 31 tours under its belt, and Nick Heidfeld, whose Jordan cried enough with a gearbox malady.
Despite the expectation that it would run like clockwork - as it has done for more than a season - Schumacher's F2004 suddenly began to sound like a candidate for the retirement list, passing the pits and causing the Ferrari crew to listen intently to its engine note. The car was definitely sounding off-song, but technical director Ross Brawn quickly decided that the culprit was nothing more serious - at this point - than a cracked exhaust, and simply told his star driver to turn down the wick. Schumacher had a five-second advantage over Barrichello and, problem or not, the gap did not close.
Things then got worse for Barrichello's hopes of catching and passing his team-mate for, at his final stop, the Brazilian was amazed to find that the team did not have his tyres ready and waiting for him. Vital seconds were lost as the mechanics frantically unwrapped the new rubber, dropping the second Ferrari far enough behind its counterpart to ensure that Schumacher could keep his reduced pace to the finish.
Montoya pitted at the same time as his South American friend, rejoining as normal but quickly returning. This time, the stop was more dramatic, as Montoya bowled his front jackman over as the Williams' lack of brakes took over. Retirement was inevitable for the Colombian, who later admitted that he had been fearing a poor result at a track he felt did not suit the strengths of the FW26. Montoya's retirement was not the last, with Christian Klien dropping out with a throttle problem on the second Jaguar and Giorgio Pantano completing a miserable day for Jordan as he parked up with hydraulic failure.
Although Button was able to take advantage of Montoya's demise to inch closer to the points, he had to dispose of Mass's Sauber before claiming eighth place and the had reason to thank the gap he built up over the Brazilian as his BAR went sick in the closing stages, forcing him to slow in the run to the flag. The problem saw the Briton lapped by the leaders, but he managed to notch up one more point towards a fast fading title challenge.
Ahead of the Honda-powered driver, Giancarlo Fisichella echoed Barrichello's belief that a two-stop strategy would work around the Circuit de Catalunya, claiming his first points of the year, and the first of his association with Sauber, but could do little to fend off Ralf Schumacher, who took sixth after a relatively quiet race. Fifth fell to Sato, who put in a clean drive but could not capitalise on his third grid slot when the Renaults proved a little too strong for the BAR.
Local hero Alonso had not been able to give the massed ranks of flag-waving fans the strong qualifying performance that they had craved 24 hours earlier, but put together another fighting drive to latch on to the rear of his team-mate in the closing stages. Trulli, no doubt succumbing gradually to his virus, could only watch the second blue-and-yellow machine coming closer, but had just enough in hand to take his fourth career podium in a formation finish. Incidentally, the last time the Italian appeared in the top three, at Hockenheim in 2003, came while he was similarly afflicted by illness....
Out front, however, there as little to touch Ferrari, even though the leading F2004 sounded as rough as Trulli did in the ensuing press conference. Barrichello's botched pit-stop ensured that he never got closer than 13secs to Schumacher, allowing the German to rack up his fifth straight win of the year, equalling Nigel Mansell's 1992 mark in his 200th grand prix.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 66 laps 1hr 27min 32.841secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +13.290secs
3. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +32.294secs
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +32.952secs
5. Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda +42.327secs
6. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +1min 13.804secs
7. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +1min 17.108secs
8. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +1 lap
9. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
10. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
11. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
12. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
Rtd Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford 51 laps completed
Rtd Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 46 laps completed
Rtd Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth 43 laps completed
Rtd Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota 33 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford 33 laps completed
Rtd Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth 31 laps completed
Rtd Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth 17 laps completed
Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 17.450s