Michael Schumacher took his 13th race win of the 2004 Formula 1 season at Japan. But that wasn't the most notable aspect of the race.
Of the Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominance of Formula 1 in the early 2000s, perhaps no year was more clinical than 2004. That year, the Maranello-based side produced a car that no other constructor looked close to matching. As such, it is little surprise that Schumacher won his seventh world title by winning a whopping 13 races that year. It is a notable season for the German legend for many reasons. He broke his own record for most race wins in a season. He became only the second man to win all of the first five races of the season. But there was another unique record he notched up that year.
This record was broken at the Japanese Grand Prix, which saw him take a dominant win. With 17 years having passed to the day, let us look back at the race.
Michael Schumacher had already wrapped up the title, and Ferrari the constructor’s championship. As such, there was little to compete for if you were another team.
However, other teams were keen for a win too and the circuit at Suzuka is a challenging one. But there was one little issue that disrupted the weekend entirely: Typhoon Ma-On.
The typhoon hit the circuit and forced qualifying on Saturday to be abandoned. As a result, it was held on Sunday – a few hours before the race itself.
Schumacher took pole, and was followed by brother Ralf. Mark Webber would be in third place, parking his Jaguar a few spots higher than it usually found itself.
The two BAR-Honda’s of Takuma Sato and Jenson Button stood fourth and fifth, with Jarno Trulli’s Toyota in sixth. All in all, a good qualifying session for the Japanese teams!
However, the rain was at least partly responsible for this. The likes of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya were all well down the order due to getting a worse time out on the track.
That being said, the stage was set for a race where seemingly anything could happen.
The race was a fairly straightforward win for Michael Schumacher, who led home Ralf in a 1-2 for the two brothers. In fact, this would end up being the last time this happened.
Prior to this, the brothers finished in a 1-2 on four occasions: the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix, the 2001 French Grand Prix, the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix and the 2003 Canadian Grand Prix.
There were two other notable incidents in the race: a crash between Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, and Webber’s retirement. But first, let’s address the former.
Coulthard and Barrichello collided on Lap 38 and both were forced to retire. However, neither driver was willing to blame the other. Instead, both put it down to being a racing incident and little else.
The weirdest retirement, however, was that of Webber’s. He was forced to pull into the pits and climb out of the car because his seat was overheated. As a result, he suffered burn marks on his buttocks.
A distraught Webber said afterwards that he was left with no choice; he wanted to go on but the heat became worse and worse.
“We could not find the cause for the heat and so I carried on in the hope that it would cool down or at least remain static. It didn’t and the heat soon became excruciatingly hot and I had no option but to retire.
You need to be completed focused on the race and when the temperature is so high that you are being physically affected and thus distracted then you need to take the decision to stop.
“I am of course disappointed that I could not have continued with the race and finished in the points.”
Yet it was Schumacher who made the headlines on the day. He was now the driver with the most wins at Suzuka, having won 6 races at the venue. He also became the first driver to qualify on pole and win a race on the same day.
Japan was the penultimate race of the season, and the season-ender took place two weeks later at Interlagos in Brazil. That race was won by Montoya, who was driving in his last race for Williams-BMW.
This would also prove to be Schumacher’s final title of his career. He retired in 2006 and although he made a comeback from 2010-12, did not scale the same heights with Mercedes as he did with Ferrari.