Schumacher wins his seventh Driver's title, becoming a bona fide legend in the process
If 2003 was the year that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari had to battle their way to victory right up until the last race of the season, in 2004, the German national and the Maranello team return to resounding form, demonstrating an even greater level of superiority than that shown in the 2002 championship, when the title was theirs as early as July. In this season, they have to wait a little longer, but the end result is the same: another record year.
Schumacher succeeds in securing five wins right at the beginning of the season: Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain - one of the new Championship races - San Marino and Spain. On the eve of the Monaco GP, Michael has 50 points in the standings,18 more than his teammate Rubens Barrichello, and over double the points of his first true rival, Jenson Button, in the astounding BAR. In Monaco, it seems as if a win is in the bag, but instead, the roulette throws up Jarno Trulli's number seven and a strange accident, which sees Schumacher landing up behind the safety car.
The Ferrari driver is in the lead, alternating acceleration and braking to keep the brakes of his F2004 warm: in the tunnel, there's a misunderstanding with Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams car, which steers sharply right in order to avoid colliding with the Ferrari. Schumacher, who hasn't noticed anything, moves right too: a crash is inevitable, and the German driver's car ends up against the barriers, destroying his left front suspension.
However, it is only a brief lull, and Michael is back on fighting form for the next race, annihilating his rivals in the European GP at the Nürburgring on 30 May. The win on the Eifel track ushers in a new string of triumphs in a total of seven races, ending with the Hungarian GP on 15 August.
The French GP held in France on 4 July is of particular note. At Magny-Cours, Ferrari's strategists place all their trust in Michael's skills, putting everything into a strategy with four pit stops to beat Fernando Alonso's Renault. To succeed, they need Schumacher to complete almost seventy laps, pushing himself to the limit as if he were in a qualifier. And the German doesn't disappoint, playing his role to perfection, thrashing his Spanish rival by almost nine seconds and his partner Barrichello by over 31.
At the Hungaroring, the awarding of the 14th Constructors' Title to Ferrari is a mathematical certainty. To secure his seventh World Drivers' Championship medal - a record that is still far from being beaten, with no one even coming close to achieving the same result - Schumacher has to wait until the next GP, in Belgium. The reigning champion at Kerpen comes second behind Kimi Räikkönen's McLaren, but it matters little: the title is secured, five races ahead of the end of the season.
Schumacher and Barrichello, who secures a win in Italy and in the first GP ever held in China, take home 15 races out of 18, wiping out the competition and setting a number of new records. Michael wins 82% of the available points, leaving Barrichello 34 lengths behind and Button a whopping 63. Ferrari is the absolute master of Formula 1: the marque has taken home the Constructors' title every year since 1999, while Schumacher has won five consecutive titles since 2000, and is by now far and away the most successful driver in the history of the Ferrari, as well as in Formula 1 as a whole. A true legend, whose glory isn't even dimmed when he returns to Formula 1 at the wheel of a Mercedes in 2010 after a three year hiatus.