After the closely fought 2003 season there was much optimism that the non-Ferrari teams might threaten Schumacher’s dominant streak in 2004.
But the opening rounds of the season quickly proved those hopes are unfounded as Schumacher cruised to victory in the first five races. Rules changes raising the pit lane speed limit to encourage more fuel stops unsurprisingly did nothing for the on-track action.
As 2003 had been all about the tyre war, the story of 2004 was written from the moment Ferrari tested the new Bridgestone compund and construction at Imola in pre-season testing. They were shockingly faster than the opposition, and almost untouchable throughout the year.
McLaren’s stillborn MP4-18 metamorphosed into the equally recalcitrant MP4-19. Williams’ radical twin-keel tusk nose philosophy failed to reap major rewards and it was BAR’s conventional yet effective 006 and Renault’s â€œflowing edgeâ€ R24 that presented what little opposition there is to the Scuderia.
Renault it was who broke Schumacher’s winning streak, Jarno Trulli taking a lights-to-flag win at Monaco while Schumacher had a bizarre run-in with a lapped Montoya and failed to finish. Thereafter, normal service was quickly resumed and Schumacher continued to rack up the wins.
Meanwhile his brother is endured a torrid season at Williams. With both of their cars disqualified in Canada, Ralf hit the wall hard at Indianapolis after picking up a puncture from crash debris. Damaged vertebrae kept him out of the car until the Chinese race.
By the time the elder Schumacher tied up the driver’s championship at Spa, McLaren had got their act together with the revised MP4-19B and Raikkonen kept Schumacher from the top spot at the Belgian race. With the championship taken care of, Schumacher produced some astonishingly off-form drives in China and Brazil.
Barrichello thus picked up a couple of token wins on his way to second in the championship ahead of Button. Jenson takes his first podiums and wins pole at Imola, but fails to deliver a first win for himself and BAR. An acrimonious dispute over Button’s desire to leave for Williams doesn’t help. Montoya’s move to McLaren in place of Coulthard is finally announced, and he puts one over future team-mate Raikkonen by winning in Brazil.
Poltically, 2004 was a shambles. Mosley threatened to resign and then reversed his decision almost immediately. Ecclestone and the British Racing Driver’s Club disputed the future of the British Grand Prix, but came to a late agreement. More worryingly, the FIA fail to adequately champion an initiative spearheaded by Minardi boss Paul Stoddart and supported by every F1 team bar Ferrari, to cut costs by limiting test days and moving to a single tyre supplier.
Ford ditched Jaguar at the end of the season, having rejected numerous pay-out options earlier in the year. They come to a hasty last-minute arrangement with Red Bull, but are not spared the ire of the F1 community. With Cosworth sold also, Jordan pick up a supply of Toyota engines and are bought out by Russian businessman Alex Shnaider’s new F1 team Midland. Minardi’s Cosworth engines are to be supplied by the US ChampCar company who bought them for their own series.
Mosley announces a confusing new rules package for 2005 in reaction to the turgid 04 season: tyre stops will be banned, though refuelling remains; qualifying will be split into two days and decided on aggregate timing; and further aerodynamic restrictions are put forward. Many of the teams are concerned, however, that Ferrari received word of the proposed changes long before the others did.