Formula 1 season review

Looking back on the 2004 Formula 1 season it is hard to remember anything other than Michael Schumacher and Ferrari stamping their authority on the rest of the field - or getting it horribly wrong and allowing the opposition a look-in. But as autosport.com's grand prix editor Jonathan Noble explains, there was still plenty to get excited about

Formula 1 season review

During the head-to-the-grindstone manic pace of an F1 season it is often quite hard to sit quietly for a few moments and take in everything that is happening. The sport's pace, with one race weekend coming to a close seemingly just hours before the build-up to the next begins, gives little time during the year to recall specific incidents or dig deeper about events that have taken place.

Everyone in the sport is simply focused on the next test session or the next race. F1 is completely forward looking and while some people are only as good as their last race, others are often judged on how good they think they will be in the next one.

Whether that mentality is good or bad matters little - it is this manic pace that actually serves to keep alive much interest in the sport.

Walking around the paddock after the Australian Grand Prix, there were some pretty glum faces everywhere apart from Ferrari, after the world champions completely wiped the floor at the start of a season when many were predicting them to trip up completely.

Yet even among that depression, the glimmers of hope that drive everyone with a passion for F1 came forwards. Ferrari had, after all, been super quick at Melbourne in the past and not dominated the season; and the lower than normal temperatures must have played into the hands of its Bridgestone tyres.

After Malaysia, where Schumacher held off Juan Pablo Montoya in the kind of temperatures that Michelin were supposed to excel in, it started to become clearer that perhaps Ferrari were going to be too strong - but no one would throw the white flag just yet.

After Bahrain, the optimists claimed that Ferrari's win was thanks to getting to grips with the new track better than the opposition. After Imola, we said that Schumacher only just beat Jenson Button thanks to his Ferrari's bigger fuel tank and an aggressive fight with Montoya on the first lap. By Spain, the game was really up though. It was no longer a question of whether Ferrari would be champions, but when.

Yet just as everyone resigned themselves to another year of Ferrari dominance, so too perversely did people start revelling in it. It almost became a fascination to wonder whether Schuey could actually complete a clean sweep of victories. Money started changing hands in the press office about just how many races Schuey would win and deep down, however much we wanted fantastic racing, there was the chance of seeing something incredible unfolding in front of our eyes if he could win them all.

And that is perhaps why there was such a host of mixed reactions after Monaco, where a nudge in the tunnel from Montoya brought Schumacher's (secret) hopes to a spectacular end. Had that trip up been Schumacher's only black mark of the campaign then I think most in the paddock would have felt robbed by what had happened - but thankfully Kimi Raikkonen beat the world champion fair and square in Spa-Francorchamps to ensure that even without Monaco the clean sweep would have been impossible.

It is no secret that the sport does find it hard to continually argue back at its detractors who claim it is no longer the spectacle it once was. And, with Ferrari taking its sixth straight constructors' championship and Michael his fifth straight drivers' crown, the critics have every reason to feel justified in their opinion.

But 2004 showed, above all else, that there are still enough people interested in seeing possibly the world's best ever driver competing at the top of his game. And the more he wins, the greater the chance of him getting it wrong next time and the more determined his opposition are to knock him off his throne.

One day he is going to come crashing back down to earth, and fans who turns their backs on the sport now will almost certainly regret not seeing what will no doubt be a defining moment in the history of F1. It is tantalizing to imagine just how Schumacher is going to cope with defeat when it finally arrives...

It's still too early to say whether it will come in 2005, but you would be a fool to not tune in and find out.

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