M. SCHUMACHER WINS EVENTFUL USGP; SATO EARNS FIRST PODIUM INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, June 20, 2004 - Six-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher held off Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro teammate Rubens Barrichello for a victory in an ...
M. SCHUMACHER WINS EVENTFUL USGP; SATO EARNS FIRST PODIUM
INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, June 20, 2004 - Six-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher held off Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro teammate Rubens Barrichello for a victory in an incident-packed United States Grand Prix on June 20 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Schumacher scored his third USGP victory on the Speedway's 2.605-mile road course by beating pole sitter Barrichello to the line by 2.9 seconds. Lucky Strike BAR Honda driver Takuma Sato finished third, 22 seconds behind Schumacher, for his first career podium finish.
This was the fourth victory in the last five years for Ferrari at Indy, and the team's third 1-2 finish there. Barrichello followed Schumacher across the finish line in 2000 and then beat him in 2002.
Schumacher took 1 hour, 40 minutes, 29.914 seconds to complete the 73-lap race at an average speed of 113.523 mph. Weather for the fifth United States Grand Prix was picture-perfect, with sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the 70-degree range.
The race was marked by two Safety Car periods in the first 11 laps of the race, one following a heavy crash on Lap 10 by BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver Ralf Schumacher. The Safety Car's intervention threw race strategies into confusion, and Michael Schumacher said the race overall was quite a challenge.
"Today was hard work," he said. "Rubens pushed very hard. He was quick all weekend, and he (was) really expecting the win today. I thought I'd have to settle down with eight points (second place) today."
The victory was Schumacher's eighth in nine races this season. He has a commanding lead in the 2004 Drivers' Championship, leading Barrichello, 80-62.
Sato became the first Japanese driver to finish on the podium since Aguri Suzuki at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, earning only the second podium for a Japanese driver in F1 history. Suzuki is the co-owner of the Super Aguri Fernandez Racing team that fields a car for 2004 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year Kosuke Matsuura in the IRL IndyCar® Series.
"This is a really great result for the team," Sato said. "It's not only for me personally, but the mechanics who work so hard, and the Honda engineers in Japan. I was so happy for the team to bring a result here. The car was beautiful, and I was able to push so hard."
Another driver scoring a career-best result was Zsolt Baumgartner, who finished eighth and scored one championship point for Wilux Minardi Cosworth. It was the first point for Minardi since Mark Webber finished sixth at Australia in 2002 and the first by a Hungarian driver.
The most serious Safety Car period took place when, on Lap 10, Ralf Schumacher did two complete 360-degree spins in Turn 13 and hit the outside retaining wall with the back of his car. According to the official BMW.WilliamsF1 Team's release, Schumacher escaped the accident with bruising and will spend the night in an Indianapolis hospital for precautionary observation.
The fight into Turn 1 on Lap 1 was marred by a collision between the Jaguar Racing car of Christian Klien and Felipe Massa's Sauber Petronas entry. Giorgio Pantano in the Jordan Ford and Gianmaria Bruni in the Wilux Minardi Cosworth also were eliminated. Panasonic Toyota Racing driver Cristiano da Matta's car also was damaged but returned after a pit stop, only to drop out on Lap 18.
The day's drama began before the start of the race as Montoya's BMW WilliamsF1 Team entry failed to start before the formation lap. WilliamsF1 Technical Director Sam Michael said the starter would not engage into the back of the car. Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, jumped out of the car and ran across the starting grid to the garage, jumped in the team's backup car and started last from pit lane.
Montoya was later in contention for a podium, running third, when he pitted on Lap 57. As he exited pit lane, he was black-flagged and disqualified from the race for circumstances related to his primary car's problems at the beginning of the race.
The race stewards cited the team in violation of Article 85 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, which states that if a driver is going to start a race in his backup car, he must be off the grid at least 15 seconds before the start of the formation lap. Montoya was two seconds too late in leaving the grid, Team Principal Sir Frank Williams said.
Barrichello had a strong start and led the field into Turn 1 with Michael Schumacher trailing. Fernando Alonso jumped from eighth to third at the start in his Mild Seven Renault F1 Team entry. But Alonso's right-rear tire disintegrated approaching Turn 1 on Lap 9, causing his car to turn 90 degrees left and hit the outside retaining wall, ending his race. He was unhurt.
When the initial Safety Car period ended on Lap 6, Michael Schumacher beat Barrichello to Turn 1. The two Ferraris ran within a second of one another until Ralf Schumacher's accident, when both drivers pitted.
Schumacher led until pitting on Lap 42, handing the lead to Barrichello, who in turn was leading Schumacher by almost 22 seconds when he pitted on Lap 50. But Barrichello said he hit a piece of debris on the course as Schumacher pitted on Lap 42, slowing him and giving Schumacher the margin he needed to hold the lead after Barrichello exited from his stop. Schumacher never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the race.
"My tires were completely gone at that stage (before the pit stop), and I couldn't really push very hard," Schumacher said. "Then putting on a lot of fuel, not knowing how much I could push, knowing Rubens was going as fast as he was, it was very difficult just to manage the situation."
Barrichello could not hide the disappointment of a lost opportunity.
"Unfortunately on the (Lap 6) restart, I had a lot of wheel spin which allowed Michael to take the slipstream and get past," Barrichello said. "(In Turn 13) it was bottoming, it was so low. I didn't have a chance to close the door.
"It was good to have a 1-2 again for the team. I'm just disappointed, more than Canada, more than ever. I thought I had a win on my hands. We had a quick car, I was driving well, and I was pushing like hell."
The next stop on the Formula One World Championship is the French Grand Prix on July 4.