Michael Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominance of Formula 1 showed no signs of ending in 2004. Indeed he won 12 of the first 13 races (and again in Japan) and clinched his seventh title with four races to go. Rubens Barrichello ably supported the German and counted back-to-back victories in Italy and at the new Chinese Grand Prix among his 14 podium finishes. Barrichello finished as championship runner-up for the second time after the scarlet cars finished 1-2 in eight of the 18 races.
Consistently best-of-the-rest was the impressive Jenson Button and BAR-Honda team. The Englishman may not have won a race but he was third in the championship after 10 top three finishes that included coming second at Imola (from a first pole position), Monaco, Hockenheim and Shanghai. However, much of the season was played out by his desire to move to Williams for 2005 although he was eventually forced to stay with BAR when the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board ruled in favour of the Brackley-based team. Team-mate Takuma Sato qualified on the front at the Nurburgring and finished third in the USA but it was an erratic campaign with incidents aplenty.
Renault’s Jarno Trulli converted pole position in Monaco into a first GP victory by withstanding Button’s intense pressure. However, he fell out of favour with Team Principal and erstwhile manager Flavio Briatore by the end of the year. Fernando Alonso was a distant fourth in the standings although the youngster had seemed on course for victory in France before Ferrari switched Schumacher to a radical four-stop strategy.
The Williams FW26-BMW was a disappointment and Juan Pablo Montoya’s victory in the Brazilian finale was a rare highlight for the team. That was the Colombian’s final race before joining McLaren and it proved to be Williams’ last win for eight years. Ralf Schumacher was sidelined for six races after injuring his back in a 180 mph accident at Indianapolis. He returned to finish second behind his brother in Japan.
Kimi Raikkonen scored just a single point during the first half of the season before the introduction of the updated McLaren MP4/19B transformed his fortunes. He won the Belgian GP (from tenth on the grid) and fourth in Germany was the best result of David Coulthard’s ninth and final season with the team. It was a time of change for the Woking-based outfit for the impressive new McLaren Technology Centre – built at a reputed cost of £300m – was fully opened in May 2004.
Mark Webber’s Jaguar qualified on the front row in Malaysia but neither he nor Christian Klien could finish higher than sixth. F1’s precarious economic state was illustrated once more when the Ford Motor Company put the team up for sale at the end of the season.
This was F1’s longest season so far with new Hermann Tilke-designed circuits in Bahrain and Shanghai expanding the calendar to 18 races for the first time.