Michael Schumacher celebrated one of his best victories of the 2004 season on this day when Fernando Alonso, Renault and Michelin gave him a real challenge at French Magny Cours and Ferrari took a gamble with an unusual strategy.
Alonso won his first and only pole position in that season (after his first career pole in Hungary in 2003) and second for Renault after Trulli’s pole position in Monaco. France was the tenth race of the season while eight of the first nine were won by Michael Schumacher (except Monaco).
Behind the Alonso in Renault R24 (1:13.698) was Schumacher in Ferrari F2004 (+0.273), Coulthard (+0.289) in the heavily revised McLaren MP4-19B and Button (+0.297) in BAR Honda 006.
Schumacher revealed that before the race he was not too optimistic, but in the race it became clear that Bridgestone tyres were very good at the end of the stints, which was not the case with Michelin, so the German managed to close the gap to Alonso before entering the pits.
And when it seemed that Alonso and Schumacher would also go on a three-stop strategy, Ferrari was surprised by Renault and opted for four stops, encouraged by the fact that Magny Cours has very short pitlane.
“After the second pitstops, we decided to go for four pitstops, we didn’t talk too much, because when my team said I was not threatened from behind, I had nothing to lose,” Michael said after the race.
“Only five laps before the end I realized that I could win when my team told me that I have a sufficient advantage to keep the lead. Maybe we would win with three stops, but that would require overtaking on the track.”
“Based on last year, I was expecting to struggle more this year, but this season seems to be extraordinary. But the competition is approaching and I expect another difficult fight in Silverstone.”
Schumacher celebrated with eight seconds advantage ahead of Alonso, and Barrichello beat Trulli in the penultimate corner of the last round.