The 2004 Formula One season picked up where the last one left off -- with a victory lap by Michael Schumacher. The German Ferrari pilot raced across the finish line just ahead of his teammate Rubens Barrichello.
Schumi steals the show
Six-time world champion Michael Schumacher proved on Sunday he is once again the man to beat this season as he led his Ferrari team to a one-two victory in the Formula One opener in Melbourne, Australia.
As the German racer took the checkered flag at Albert Park only 13.605 seconds ahead of his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, the clock seemed to roll back to 2002, when the Ferrari duo roared to 15 wins in 17 races.
Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello of Brazil holds his trophy to celebrate his victory in the F-1 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003.
With a record time of 1:24:15.757 hours, the rest of the field paled in comparison to Schumi and Barrichello. In third place was the Spaniard Fernando Alonso for Renault. The BMW-Williams team disappointed with a fourth and fifth place by Ralf Schumacher and the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.
"Ferrari was in a class of its own," said Norbert Haug, motor sport boss for McLaren-Mercendes, which only managed to pull off an 8th place with David Coulthard.
"I think Ferrari could probably have lapped everybody if they had wanted to... I hope 2002 is not coming back."
Italian steed steels show
Ferrari pilots Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello (right) came in first and third at the Monza, Italy circuit on Sept. 14, 2003.
"If the headlines are 'Ferrari Again' it is not going to be good," a frustrated Montoya said after his hopes of picking up with last year's third place overall ranking were dashed.
But for the Italian carmaker, the season couldn't have started better. "It was a grandiose performance from Ferrari, crowned with an equally grandiose result," boasted the team's sporting director Jean Todt. "The championship has got underway with a dream event."
For Formula One ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, a return of a one-two Ferrari sweep spells nothing but disaster. After new regulations did nothing to slow the Italian steed or bring out a new contending champion, the sport's commercial supremo is worried 2004 could bring a return of the 2002 "Formula Yawn" when television audiences switched off in droves because the results were foreseeable.
Schumacher, however, cautioned his teammates about getting carried away with the glory of the moment. It is just the first of 18 races, he said: "We need to keep our feet firmly on the ground. The difficult ones are still to come."
Schumi's reign continues
For the star of the show, who sailed seemingly effortlessly to his 71st Grand Prix win, the Australian opener showed he was still king of the track. The 35-year old has dominated Formula One since 1999 and has given no indication of wanting to hang up his helmet.
"I just love fighting on the circuit and it's natural to me and as long as I am competitive and the love is there ... I'll enjoy it as long as I can," he vowed.