World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) maintained his 100 percent seasonal record with a victory in the fourth grand prix of the season at Imola, but the German was made to work hard in the opening stages. Fastest qualifier Jenson Button ...
World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) maintained his 100 percent seasonal record with a victory in the fourth grand prix of the season at Imola, but the German was made to work hard in the opening stages.
Fastest qualifier Jenson Button (B·A·R-Honda-Michelin) streaked away from pole position to establish an early advantage of more than two seconds, but Schumacher closed him down and moved ahead after the first scheduled round of pit stops.
Button rejoined in second place and stayed there to the chequered flag. It was the best result of his F1 career and his third straight podium finish.
"It was another fantastic race for me and second place is another step closer to our ultimate ambition - a first win for me and the team. Our revised package has worked incredibly well here and this result just goes to prove what we can achieve together with our partners Honda and Michelin. I'm very happy today and it looks like we have a very exciting season ahead of us," declared the British driver.
Michelin drivers dominated the leaderboard and took all but two of the top eight places. Former Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) ran wide on the opening lap while trying to pass Schumacher, but he didn’t lose any places and lapped steadily all afternoon to finish third.
"I tried to pass Michael but he closed the door twice," commented Montoya,
"I had to back off but when I tried again he hit me and pushed me out on the grass. I am very disappointed as this was not fair racing."
Fernando Alonso (Renault) finished fourth on the road, although the result is subject to a post-race investigation because the Spaniard clashed with Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) at Tosa corner in the closing stages.
The German spun down to seventh place as a consequence. Alonso’s team-mate Jarno Trulli gained the upper hand in a fierce, afternoon-long battle for fifth with Ferrari number two Rubens Barrichello.
There was some good news at last for McLaren/Michelin star Kimi Räikkönen, whose season has been plagued by technical failures. He started at the back of the grid in the wake of a pre-race engine change but fought his way through the field to finish eighth – his first point of the season.
Olivier Panis (Toyota, 11th) was best of the remaining Michelin drivers, from David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes, 12th), Mark Webber (Jaguar, 13th) and Christian Klien (Jaguar, 14th). Coulthard had to fight back after losing his front wing and running off the road on the first lap. That necessitated an unscheduled pit stop that left him well adrift of his rivals.
Takuma Sato (B·A·R-Honda/Michelin) was on course to finish eighth but retired with an engine failure with just five laps remaining. Ex-CART champion Cristiano da Matta (Toyota/Micheln) ran in the top 10 initially but ran off the road shortly after being given a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue warning flags.
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin Motorsport Director
"We adopted a fairly aggressive approach to this race but our tyres were in such good condition at the end of each stint. The track surface hasn't changed a great deal since yesterday, despite the fierce rainstorms overnight. Conditions were perhaps a little bit more slippery at the start of the grand prix, but they hadn't evolved significantly. Michelin's three dry-weather compounds proved to be fast and durable throughout the weekend, as our tyres have been at every circuit this year. We were delighted with Jenson Button's pole position and he raced really well today - another illustration of the progress B·A·R has made since switching to Michelin."