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 Formula One

Here is a race-by-race breakdown of the 2004 Formula One season:

Australian GP

Following highly promising winter testing with the striking-looking FW26, an unusually cool Melbourne proved a sobering experience, not just for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team. Ferrari was in a league of its own - starting on the front row of the grid and taking a one-two victory. During final qualifying, neither Montoya (third on the grid) nor Ralf Schumacher (eighth) managed to complete an error-free lap. After the start Montoya was left in the wake of the two disappearing Ferraris and, in an attempt to defend his third place against Alonso, went off track to lose four places. His team-mate Schumacher, by contrast, made headway and was in sixth place by the end of the first lap. Thanks to a smart strategy and passing maneuvers, the two drivers made good progress and finished fourth (Schumacher) and fifth (Montoya). Both were unhappy with their car's handling, reporting understeer and tire graining, and with a gap to the winning team of around a second a lap. But the good news was that the BMW P84 had passed its baptism of fire under the new regulations (double the race distance) without a murmur.

Malaysian GP

BMW left the first hot race of the season in Sepang with mixed feelings: Montoya managed to keep up with the speed of the World Champion to within striking distance, and even took the lead on some laps of the race, eventually finishing second. But Ralf Schumacher had to retire from fourth place with a blown engine at the halfway mark. It was the first engine fault since the final of the 2002 season and was traced to a faulty component. In qualifying Montoya had come fourth, Schumacher seventh. Despite the German's retirement, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team managed to defend their second place in the Constructors' Championship and, in the light of the improved performance compared to the season's opening race, felt buoyed up for the Grand Prix races ahead.

Bahrain Flag Bahrain GP

Close in qualifying, unlucky in the race: that was the conclusion of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team after Formula One made its debut in the desert state of Bahrain. In prequalifying, Schumacher and Montoya were mixing it up at the front and in the second timed lap the two drivers secured the second row of the grid. This time the Colombian was in front of the German. The team upheld its strategy of securing the best starting positions for final qualifying with a low fuel load and commensurately light cars. Montoya managed to hold onto third place in the race as well. After his third and final pit stop, a podium place seemed certain, but then his gearbox gave up with ten laps to go. Struggling in fourth gear, he dropped back helplessly into 13th place. Schumacher had collided with Sato early on in the race and had to put in an extra pit stop. From the back of the field he nevertheless managed to fight his way through to seventh place to collect two championship points. After the first three flyaway Grands Prix, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team was now joint third with the Lucky Strike BAR Honda Team.

San Marino GP

The BMW WilliamsF1 Team arrived for the European opener with the next development stage of the BMW P84 engine. The FW26 revealed its first aerodynamic modifications - the start of an ongoing development of the chassis. During qualifying at Imola, Montoya and Schumacher came third and fifth. After some fierce jockeying for positions in a turbulent first lap of the race - Ralf Schumacher attacked Montoya, Montoya attacked Michael Schumacher - the sequence remained unchanged for the time being. On lap 51 out of 62, Schumacher spun after colliding with Alonso and ultimately finished seventh. Montoya successfully defended his third place to take the second trophy of the 2004 season, but this could not stop the team from slipping into fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.

Spanish GP

For the first time in the season, a BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver was lined up on the front row of the grid: Montoya had qualified for second place. Schumacher was starting from sixth position. After disappointing starts, the two drivers ended the first lap in fourth and ninth places respectively. Both were unhappy with their set-up. Though the Circuit de Catalunya is the most frequently visited test track for the team, it never fails to come up with surprises. Above all, it is the wind on the elevated track outside Barcelona that prevents consistent track conditions. All three pit stops went smoothly for both drivers, but they both had to contend with mounting difficulties with the brakes and for the latter stages of the race were in sixth (Montoya) and seventh position (Schumacher). At the end of lap 46, the Colombian had to retire with overheated brakes. His team-mate was elevated into sixth place to glean three World Championship points.

Monaco GP

For Ralf Schumacher in particular, the most famous of all Grands Prix turned into an emotional roller-coaster ride in 2004. Although he was second in qualifying, he had to start from twelfth place as a result of an engine replacement during practice. In the race he worked his way forward, but the catching-up exercise remained unrewarded. Soon after the start he lost fifth gear and later one gear after another packed up. He limped out of the race on lap 69. Montoya made a mistake during qualifying, but after his team-mate's relegation he moved up a place into ninth on the grid. After the first safety car phase, brought on by a hair-raising collision (Sato had stopped with a blown engine, Coulthard managed to brake in time but it was too late for Fisichella to react), Montoya launched a spectacular move to successfully pass Barrichello and slip into sixth place. After his first pit stop Montoya dropped back to tenth place but worked his way forward again. Lap 42 brought another safety car phase. In the tunnel, Alonso had hit the crash barriers while lapping Ralf Schumacher. Michael Schumacher was immediately behind the safety car with Montoya in his rear-view mirror. During the usual procedure of warming up the brakes and accelerating alternately, the two of them collided. It was the end of the race for the World Champion, while Montoya crossed the finish line in fourth place.

European GP

Something happened in the Eifel that should never happen: the two team-mates collided with each other on the first turn. Montoya braked too late behind Barrichello and hit Ralf Schumacher, who for his part took da Matta's Toyota with him. Schumacher had to abandon the race while Montoya returned to the pits for repair work, returning to the track in 18th place with a 35-second gap to make up. In the end he managed to scythe his way up to eighth place to pick up a championship point. Though Mario Theissen acknowledged that the first turn on the Nürburgring was notorious for accidents after the start, the missed opportunities were painful. The drivers' performance in qualifying - Montoya came eighth, Schumacher ninth - had been disappointing. To respond to the challenges ahead. Frank Williams announced there would be innovations and there was also a shift in personnel, with Sam Michael taking on Patrick Head's role as Technical Director, and Patrick taking up a new position as Director of Engineering to enhance Williams' ability to respond to longer lead time developments.

Canadian GP

On the Saturday, Ralf Schumacher took the first pole position of the year for the team while Montoya secured a place on the second row by coming fourth in qualifying. It was a good performance. There was even more reason to celebrate on Sunday when Schumacher crossed the line in second place and Montoya managed a creditable fifth-placed finish. There were no significant gaps, the team was clearly more competitive and duly relieved by the results. But the good mood lasted no more than four hours: that was when the FIA disqualified both drivers in the BMW WilliamsF1 Team. Sam Michael commented: "The front brake ducts were not in accordance with the regulations. It was not intentional and there was no performance gain. It was a mistake. Our checks didn't work properly." After this unproductive round the team thought things couldn't possibly get worse. They were wrong.

USA GP

For a team there can hardly be anything more distressing than seeing one of its drivers sitting motionless in a crashed car. Minutes seem like hours. A burst tire had catapulted Ralf Schumacher into the wall on lap ten of the race at Indianapolis. An investigation indicated that carbon debris from previous accidents had slit open the tyre. Schumacher's accident on the famous Oval occurred at 330 km/h, causing the rear of the FW26 to slam into an unpadded part of the concrete wall. But the all-clear soon came from the Medical Centre and the hospital: he had sustained no more than bruising and concussion. Some days later, back in Germany, he was also found to have some vertebral fractures. Schumacher had to miss six GPs. During qualifying for the US Grand Prix, Montoya and Schumacher had secured a solid fifth
and sixth place on the grid. However, before the formation lap there were problems starting Montoya's car. He swapped to the T-car - seconds too late. In the race he had fought his way from the back of the field to third place after 57 laps. A good 90 minutes had passed since he had switched to the spare car and the stewards disqualified him for the infringement.

French GP

It was the high season. Formula One was staging six races in eight weeks. The French and British GPs were the third twin pack. Although there was no opportunity for testing, the FW26 turned up at Magny-Cours with a much leaner silhouette thanks to a new aero package. But the Friday already proved a challenge. Aquaplaning took Montoya off the track and his car sustained lasting damage. A mistake during qualifying meant he only made sixth place in the last sector. Test driver Marc Gené, who was deputising for Schumacher, qualified in eighth place. Gené had a bad start to the race and sacrificed three places on the tumultuous first lap. He eventually crossed the line in tenth place. Montoya, who complained of neck pain after his accident, initially held onto sixth place but dropped back to ninth on lap 18 after a spin. He eventually finished eighth to salvage a point.

British GP

At Silverstone, finally, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team once again experienced a race weekend without any unpleasant incidents, and for the spectators Formula One delivered excitement all the way to the finish. Despite the short interval since the French GP, the FW26 displayed further modifications. Saturday's prequalifying presented a bizarre scenario. As the weather forecasts had led everyone to expect rain during final qualifying, all the drivers wanted to get out on the track as early as possible. They dawdled along in prequalifying, trying do outdo each other in slowness. But the gamble didn't pay off for anyone as the rain held off until the evening. Montoya and Gené qualified for eighth and 13th positions but were able to advance to seventh and eleventh due to rival drivers being relegated. After mediocre starts, Montoya and Gené held these positions in the race. Thanks also to a quick response to a safety car phase (after a serious accident involving Trulli) and strategically sound decisions, Montoya ended the GP in fifth place to collect four points. Gené was unhappy with his twelfth-placed finish.

German GP

Three days of test driving to try out the new aero package paid dividends: Montoya qualified in second place. Test driver Antonio Pizzonia replaced Gené as Schumacher's substitute. The Brazilian was contesting his first GP after a year's absence and his first ever for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team. In prequalifying he was virtually on a par with Montoya's best time, but made some mistakes on his second timed lap and was dismayed at gaining only tenth place on the grid. After the first start was interrupted, Montoya made a pig's ear of the second, dropping back into seventh place, while Pizzonia was in eighth place at the end of the first lap. Hockenheim demonstrated the positive impact a successfully designed circuit can have: countless passing manoeuvres were a pleasure to watch. And thus Montoya made his way into fifth place while Pizzonia finished in seventh, endowing the team with six points.

Hungarian GP

After two race-free weekends and the continuing ban on testing, feverish work had been carried out at the factories. The FW26 rolled up for the Budapest GP with a new front end. Its "trunk" nose had given way to a new slimmed-down, traditional version. After trouble-free practice sessions the drivers were prepared to compromise in deference to a good race set-up and settled for sixth and seventh places in qualifying. This time Pizzonia was faster than Montoya, but it earned him a serious disadvantage: starting from the dirty side of the track, he made a bad getaway and lost five places. Montoya, starting from the clean side, instantly moved up into fourth place and ended the race in the same position. Pizzonia worked his way forward to seventh place. Seven more points meant the team held onto their fourth place in the Constructors' Championship. Michael Schumacher took his twelfth victory of the season in Hungary, securing the Constructors' Championship for Ferrari once again.

Belgian GP

On Formula One's return to the spectacular Spa circuit, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team aimed to continue its upward trend. But they were unlucky in the race and came away empty-handed. In unsettled weather conditions, Montoya and Pizzonia only managed eleventh and 14th places in qualifying. The Grand Prix turned into a nailbiting race and tire damage subsequently became the hot topic. Montoya and Pizzonia improved their positions on the first lap to sixth and eighth. At the restart following a safety car phase, Montoya edged his way past Schumacher to move into fifth place. A subsequent attack on Trulli resulted in a spin, during which Pizzonia slipped past Montoya. After another yellow flag phase following an accident caused by tyre damage, Pizzonia was in third place. On lap 32, however, he had to retire with a faulty gearbox. Montoya moved into third position but became the next victim of tyre damage on lap 37. A second-placed finish for Michael Schumacher was sufficient to tie up his seventh World Championship title.

Italian GP

In time for the GP on the Formula One track with the highest full-throttle percentage (70%), the final evolution of the BMW P84 engine was fired up and promptly demonstrated its prowess by setting two world records: Pizzonia clocked 369.9 km/h on Sunday to claim the highest speed ever recorded in F1. In prequalifying, Montoya had posted the highest average speed ever at 262.242 km/h. The Colombian qualified for second place on the grid while Pizzonia was in eighth. On a drying track, both drivers appropriately started out with dry tires. Montoya dropped into third place behind Barrichello and Alonso. On the final laps he was still in third place, but then fell back to fifth with gearbox problems. After an accident during a turbulent start, Pizzonia ended the first lap as the back marker but managed to push back into seventh place. The team collected six points at Monza.

China Chinese GP

Formula One was entering new territory - on a vast new circuit outside the gates of boomtown Shanghai, in a new marketplace, and before sold-out terraces packed with an enthusiastic crowd. Ralf Schumacher was back on the grid again after a 14-week break since his accident in the US Grand Prix and was impressed by the progress the FW26 had made in the interim. Best times in free practice were followed by a meagre qualifying result: the German was in fifth place while Montoya drove the eleventh-best time, but started from tenth after a rival was moved back on the grid. Schumacher got off to a bad start and lost two positions. After his second and final pit stop he was back on course for fifth place. A collision with Coulthard on lap 37, which was not pursued further by the stewards, resulted in tire damage. As Schumacher was approaching the pit box it was just being prepared for Montoya's second scheduled stop. For Schumacher the waiting time was too long and he abandoned the race. Montoya similarly lost positions on the first lap, initially falling back to 13th place. He then drove a clean race, benefited from a good strategy and crossed the line in fifth to secure four points.

Japanese GP

In the land of the rising sun, Formula One was initially dominated by an approaching typhoon. There had been little driving on Friday due to heavy rain, and on Saturday the track remained closed. It was a precaution which subsequently proved unnecessary as the cyclone had changed direction. On Saturday evening the teams set up everything they had safely packed away the previous day. Qualifying took place on Sunday morning without the usual preceding set-up work. Montoya had been out on a wet track for prequalifying with excessive tire pressure and returned with a bad position for final qualifying, in which he came 13th. Ralf Schumacher put in a commanding performance to occupy second place on the grid and took that position all the way to the finish line in a faultless race. He earned the team its third podium place of the season. Montoya made his way into seventh place. The ten points gained added up to the season's best result, firming up the team's championship position.

Brazilian GP

It was a happy ending to a difficult season: in the final race at São Paulo, Montoya took his leave with a well-earned victory for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team. After hitch-free practice sessions, he had qualified in second place and in difficult weather conditions - rain at the outset and drizzle later on - and capitalised on an excellent team strategy to claim the fourth F1 win of his career. This first win of the season was the tenth for the partnership. Ralf Schumacher had planned a two-stop strategy and had therefore taken on more weight in qualifying (seventh on the grid). But due to the early switch from intermediates to dry tires, that tactic didn't pay off and the German came fifth in the race. For him it was likewise the last Grand Prix driving for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team, which ended up fourth in the Constructors' World Championship.

 

 

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