12 Sep 2004
On 12th September 2004, Rubens Barrichello won the Italian Grand Prix. The F2004 was an amazing car and Scuderia Ferrari came to Monza having already clinched both the Constructors’ title and the Drivers’ one with Michael Schumacher. If anyone thought the team would relax now, they were mistaken, as Rubens and Michael were competitive right from Friday. On Saturday the Brazilian took a fantastic pole, ahead of Montoya, with Michael third. Sunday seemed set to be a repeat of so many others that season, but the rain fell all morning, affecting tyre choice at the start: Rubens opted for wets, Michael for drys.
With the track still damp, Rubens made the most of pole and flew off into the lead: his advantage after one lap was almost 7 seconds over second placed Alonso. However, Michael had overshot the first chicane and then collided with Button, ending up in a spin at the second chicane, crossing the line 15th. As the track dried, Rubens gradually lost ground so that on lap 5, Alonso passed him. The Ferrari man pitted on that lap to refuel and switch to dry tyres, rejoining ninth. In the meantime, Michael had already worked his way up to eleventh. On lap 9, the German passed Fisichella and two laps later overtook his team mate, who had a heavy fuel load. Michael made his first stop on lap 15, rejoining tenth. Rubens benefited when those ahead of him pitted, moving up to fourth, 8s off the leader Button. The two Ferraris were running at a strong pace, gradually catching those ahead, with Michael passing Webber on lap 20 to go seventh, before gradually reeling in the leaders: on lap 21, the gap was 29”, which dropped to 21” on lap 29.
At this point, Rubens made his second pit stop, when he was right up behind Montoya: at that moment, the team decided to split the rest of the race into two stints, so as to make the most of a clear track ahead. The Brazilian rejoined in seventh, almost 27” down on Button. The F2004 and the Bridgestone tyres allowed Michael and Rubens to reduce the gap to Button to 17 and 24 seconds respectively on lap 33, when Alonso and Montoya made their second stops. Next time round, Button came in and Michael was in the lead, followed 7 seconds down by Rubens. On lap 36, the German made his second and final stop for fuel and tyres, rejoining fourth, almost 20 seconds off Rubens, who was lapping consistently under the 1m 22s mark, or 2 seconds a lap faster than Button and Alonso behind him. The Spanish Renault driver went off the track on lap 41, when Michael was almost right behind him. The key moment in the race came on lap 42: Rubens pitted for a final, very quick refuelling and tyre change and was able to get back on track ahead of everyone; immediately after crossing the finish line, Michael passed Button to go second.
Once in the lead, the two Ferrari men backed off slightly, in order to save the cars, and also because Button was gradually slipping back from them. The final stages of the race saw Michael and Rubens manage the situation to the chequered flag, cheered on by the enthusiasm of the Ferrari fans and the company staff who packed the grandstand at the entrance to the Parabolica.
It was Rubens’ first win of the season, which was celebrated with great enthusiasm. “I have won many races, but this is the first time I have managed to get win on a track for a second time. Today was magic, just as it was two years ago here. Some people say Formula 1 is boring: today you definitely couldn’t make that claim. It’s an incredible feeling. This is my best season: what was missing was only a win. It came because we have a fantastic team: I want to thank all our guys and our fans. Thanks to them, I loved every single moment of this weekend. When it’s going to be your day, it really is your day!”