MAY 24, 2004
MONACO GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Le Grand Prix de la Liberation
Ding Dong! The Witch is dead! Blue and yellow is nicer than red. Rub your eyes, get out of bed. Let the joyous news be spread: Formula 1 has got some cred. Ding Dong! The Witch is dead!
On Sunday night in Monte Carlo there was dancing on the streets as Formula 1 came alive again with Jarno Trulli's victory for Renault. The F1 media, like the Chorus of Munchkins in the Land of Oz, were quick to celebrate. It may not be nice, it may not be fair, but when Michael Schumacher's Ferrari appeared from the Monte Carlo tunnel having been punched firmly on the nose, the Media Centre raised a spontaneous cheer, a sign perhaps that Ferrari has done everything right in F1 in recent years, except to win hearts and minds.
Before going to Monte Carlo, half the people in Formula 1 were ready to slit their wrists because of Michael Schumacher's complete and utter domination of the 2004 season and his complete lack of interest in what his success was doing to the sport. It was beginning to seem as though the red car was never going to get beaten. It never broke down; it never crashed. If one pointed out a weakness in the Ferrari armour or suggest that someone else might one day win a race, one was condemned as being unrealistic or anti-Ferrari. And in the meantime people across the world were doing things other than watching Grand Prix racing on TV on a Sunday afternoon. Now, TV ratings and ticket sales will rise; people will be interested again and perhaps Ferrari will have learned a lesson.
The weakness that broke Michael's dream of 18 consecutive victories this year was Michael's own arrogance. It was a lesson he did not learn at Monza in 2000 when he caused some frightening moments when playing about behind the Safety Car, warming up his brakes. On that occasion it was others who suffered and after the race Michael admitted his mistake.
"After the Safety Car switches off the lights, the leader dictates the gap of the Safety Car," he said. I was accelerating/braking, accelerating/braking, to warm up my brakes. I think I made a mistake the way I did it, because when I started braking again all the cars behind started braking, but probably saw it a little bit too late. I'm sorry for whoever suffered from that. I thought that everybody knew what I was going to do."
Fast forward nearly four years and he same thing happens again and this time the response is different: hours after the race the Ferrari team issued a press statement which quoted Schumacher was saying that "the situation is that the race leader was knocked out of the race after being hit by a backmarker."
These were not the words of a great champion. Nor was it right that the team was up in Race Control arguing that Juan Pablo Montoya was a dirty driver and had taken Michael out of the race deliberately. Where was Montoya supposed to go when Michael caught him out accelerating and braking in the tunnel? Montoya tried to avoid the Ferrari by diving for the right side of the track where there was (initially at least) a gap. Montoya was trying to stop but there was just no time and he ended up with the right hand wheels of the Williams rubbing down the barrier and his left front wheel rubbing along the sidepod of the Ferrari. The Williams slowed but as it did so the left front wheel tagged Michael's right rear and the Ferrari was turned sharply to the left and smacked into the barriers.
The accident obscured one major fact. Even if Michael was leading this race, there was no way that he was going to win it because everyone had made their last stop except for him. To suggest that he was in a position where victory was possible was just unrealistic. Michael did set the fastest lap of the race but Monaco 2004 belonged to Jarno Trulli and the world loved him for it.
"I believed in myself," he said. "I believed in the team and I hoped that maybe we could win here."
Michael was fourth on the grid - that in itself was shocking enough - and from the moment the lights went out and Takuma Sato took off with such explosive forward motion that he was ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael before the first corner. Michael was back in sixth place and at the front Trulli and Fernando Alonso were streaking away. The Chorus of Munchkins were already doing voice exercises up in the Media Centre.
Michael was fortunate in that Takuma's race was as short as it was spectacular and he did not remain trapped for too long. The Renaults were around 10 secs ahead when Sato's Honda V10 blew up at Tabac in a most impressive fashion, creating a smokescreen of which the Royal Navy would have been proud. Sato pulled off to the left to get off the racing line but the visibility was zero and there was a huge shunt when Giancarlo Fisichella ran straight into the back of the almost stationary McLaren of David Coulthard.
"I heard was a bang and I was upside-down," said Fisichella, who later crawled from the wreckage when the noise of the engines faded. By then a Safety Car was out on the circuit and the Renault advantage had been squandered. Suddenly Schumacher was back in striking distance of the leaders although he still had Jenson Button's BAR and Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren ahead of him. When the race restarted a few laps later Trulli and Alonso went away again and Michael remained stuck behind Raikkonen until lap 19 when finally Kimi went into pitlane. At that point Michael was 10 secs behind the leader. He set four consecutive fastest laps but the Renaults were still lapping very quickly and so the gap came down to 8.6 secs. And then the Trulli, Alonso and Michael all did their pit stops. When they were back up to speed again Michael had leap-frogged ahead of Raikkonen and Button but he was still seven seconds behind and there he stayed, the gap fluctuating a little because of traffic but remaining unchanged.
It was on lap 42 that things changed again when Alonso made a bit of a mess of lapping Ralf Schumacher's recalcitrant Williams, which was hobbled with gearbox trouble, Fernando tried to pass the white car in the tunnel, got onto the marbles and smacked the barriers to left and right. Out came the Safety Car once more and almost everyone headed straight into the pits to take advantage of the situation. Only Ferrari left its drivers out on the track and up in Munchkinland in the Media Centre there was soon a lively argument over whether or not Ross Brawn and his strategy geeks had made a bad mistake. Michael was ahead on the road but he was going to have to pit.
"Michael could have put in some quick laps with a clear track ahead of him, building up a big enough lead to stay ahead of the others," Brawn explained. Well, in theory, that was true except that pit stops were costing drivers around half a minute and Michael's car was at best half a second better than Trulli's, which would have meant that all Michael had to do was stay out for another 60 laps and all would have been well. Alas, the race had only 35 laps to go and Michael did not have the fuel to get to the finish.
It was all irrelevant, of course, because of what happened as Michael prepared for the restart. After that it became a battle between Trulli and Button who had suddenly gone from fourth to second with the retirements of Alonso and Michael. Button knew that overtaking Trulli was a virtually impossibility but he pushed all the way to the finish line, hoping that Trulli would crack under the pressure. But Jarno held firm. This was his day.
"In the end I was just managing the race," Trulli said. "I was slowing down, taking care of my tyres, not taking any risks because I knew anyway that in Monaco you cannot overtake. When I wanted I just responded to the quickest lap time but in the end there was no point in taking any risks. Everything was under control."
It got the crowd going nonetheless even if in the BAR cockpit Button knew the score.
"I know you cannot overtake here," he said. "But I had to give everything I possibly could and maybe push him into a mistake. I know he wasn't pushing 100% but you've got to try."
The two cars finished four-tenths of a second apart and Monaco was buzzing with excitement. Seventy-five seconds behind them came Rubens Barrichello, pottering along in a Ferrari which he said had something wrong in the rear suspension.
"It was just a question of going round and round just to finish the race really," Rubens admitted. "There was no point in pushing because something must have broken on the car."
Montoya was a lap down in his Williams, which was really not up to the job
"When you start ninth in Monaco you cannot hope to finish fourth," said Juan Pablo. "The car felt OK but it just wasn't quick enough."
Ralf Schumacher was long gone by then, having struggled all afternoon with a gearbox problem which eventually overheated.
"In the last few laps I had only fourth gear," said Ralf.
There was a gap of 47 secs from Montoya to Felipe Massa in the surviving Sauber, who had fought a hard battle in the closing laps with the Toyota of Cristiano da Matta. The two cars crossed the line side-by-side but Massa took the place by a tenth of a second.
Da Matta and the Toyota big cheeses complained afterwards that more points would have been scored if Cristiano had not been given a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags.
"I have to say that the inconsistency of the blue flags is appalling," said Mike Gascoyne. "Cristiano got a blue flag and moved over at the next corner and was then given a penalty. Ralf Schumacher was a lap behind but in front of us for two or three laps and nothing was done. This has cost us points."
A search of the lap times revealed no good reason why Da Matta should have been penalised...
A lap further back came Nick Heidfeld who had done a good job for Jordan to pick up the team's first points of the season - and significant ones they may turn out to be. Jordan is now ahead of Jaguar in the Constructors' Championship which may be hugely significant when it comes to Mark Webber's performance clause in a few weeks from now.
Panis gave Toyota the final point in eighth place and in doing so dragged the team up onto the tail of McLaren in the Constructors' battle. It was another bad day for the grey team with Coulthard taken out in the Fisichella shunt and Raikkonen being instructed to retire to avoid a pneumatic failure in the engine. There were no points for the Woking team and Sauber is now ahead in the Constructors' battle.
Jaguar failed to get either car home, Christian Klien going out on the first lap when he lost his front wings on the back of Nick Heidfeld at Mirabeau and then slithered into the barriers at the Grand Hotel Hairpin.
Minardi managed to get Zsolt Baumgartner home but with a fastest lap in the 1m21s it is hard to see how this was a triumph. His team mate Gianmaria Bruni went out with a gearbox failure.
And so ended an eventful and happy day in Formula 1 history.
The day Jarno and the Munchkins danced with joy and Formula 1 was liberated from the grip of Michael Schumacher.