Michael Schumacher got his revenge for losing out on pole position to Jenson Button by winning the San Marino Grand Prix. BAR's Button led from pole until the first round of pit stops, where Schumacher got the better of him. Ferrari's reigning ...
Michael Schumacher got his revenge for losing out on pole position to Jenson Button by winning the San Marino Grand Prix. BAR's Button led from pole until the first round of pit stops, where Schumacher got the better of him. Ferrari's reigning champion then had an untroubled race to take victory number four of the season and the 74th of his career. Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya completed the podium in third.
Torrential rain overnight at Imola saw a rather green track on race day: "Last night a large amount of rain came down, it will be slippery," said Williams technical director Patrick Head before the start. "I suspect those red cars are in pretty good shape but we've seen that Juan Pablo and Ralf (Schumacher) can race well with a decent start."
Michael's red car was certainly in good shape but Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello struggled. Button got away in the lead and second placed Michael came under attack from Montoya, who started third, at the first corner. They were side by side and Montoya had to take to the grass, leaving the Ferrari to stay ahead. Ralf then had a go at Juan Pablo but he too had to take to the grass as the Colombian held his ground.
David Coulthard hit the back of Fernando Alonso's Renault at the next corner and he had to pit for a new front wing on the McLaren, which effectively ruined his race. The second BAR of Takuma Sato got a good start, up to fourth, Barrichello and Alonso losing out down to sixth and ninth respectively. Kimi Raikkonen, who started from the back of the grid after an engine change yesterday, made it up to 15th in the first lap.
After that excitement, it settled down into a bit of a procession, most of the overtaking being done in the pit stops. Michael was close behind Button at the front but not really threatening, and found the advantage in the first stops. Button came in first, his stop fairly long but clean, and Michael came in a couple of laps later. He had two very fast laps before his stop and it was about two seconds faster than Button's, so Michael returned to the track in the lead. And there he stayed until the chequered flag.
Montoya and the Jaguar of Mark Webber had a close shave in the pits, as did Barrichello and Trulli later on. Giorgio Pantano was the first retiree, ending up in the gravel quite early in the race with a hydraulics failure. Jordan teammate Nick Heidfeld also retired later on, with a transmission problem. Barrichello cleared Sato in his first stop and the order was Michael, Button, Montoya at the front and Renault's Jarno Trulli in fourth. A good effort from the Italian, who started ninth.
Barrichello was obviously frustrated stuck behind Ralf, fifth and sixth respectively, but couldn't do anything about the Williams. Montoya was over 20 seconds behind Michael and Button who were on their own up front -- Ferrari's performance edge was evident and Button had a deficit of 14 seconds, but he hung in there. Webber had some kind of engine gremlin and although he made to the flag, it was a lacklustre performance from Jaguar this weekend.
The trio of Ralf, Barrichello and Alonso were reeling Trulli in, Barrichello not able to escape his rivals. Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni retired to the pits with a right rear brake problem, although teammate Zsolt Baumgartner finished the race. Button pitted early for his second stop, which was a bit surprising -- his long first stop seemed to indicate a big fuel load but he was on a par with the rest. Michael came in the next lap, the pair retaining their order at the front.
Ralf and Barrichello came into the pits together and Ralf only just made it out in front. It was enough for him to be ahead of Trulli when the Renault made its second stop, frustrating Barrichello even further as he stayed behind Trulli. Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, who had a close up view of the pit lane antics from the pit wall, said it was "pretty hairy".
Cristiano da Matta was the next casualty, ending his race in a gravel trap; Toyota teammate Olivier Panis had an anonymous time to come home 11th. Michael was now 20 seconds ahead of Button, Montoya in third having much the same gap between himself and the BAR. Alonso had a great second stop and cleared both Trulli and Barrichello to come out in fifth. He then set about tackling Ralf, which proved unfortunate for the Williams.
Alonso came up the inside and it appeared that Ralf just didn't see him. He moved over and the Renault pushed him into a spin. Alonso thinks Ralf was maybe a little aggressive: "I tried to overtake and he closed the door on me," said the Spaniard. "I think he saw me and closed the door in a bad way." The pair were investigated for the incident and the stewards decided no action needed to be taken.
Ralf recovered from his spin, although he dropped to seventh. After the top three it was then Alonso, Trulli, Barrichello, Ralf and Sato. Free from the Williams, Alonso started homing in on third placed Montoya and Barrichello was pressuring Trulli. Sato, who had been minding his own business and having a fairly good race, suddenly exploded without warning just a few laps from home. His engine, that is, not Takuma himself. The race wasn't exciting enough to warrant spontaneous combustion on behalf of a driver.
Unfortunate as it was for Sato, it promoted Raikkonen to eighth and the Finn finally saw the chequered flag for the first time this season with one point for his efforts. Eighth is not something McLaren will be proud of but Kimi and the team must surely be relieved he made it to the line. In the final laps Alonso caught up with Montoya and Barrichello caught Trulli but there was no time left to do anything about it.
Ferrari's expertise in strategy and its performance advantage paid off, at least in Michael's case. Once he was ahead after the first pit stops there was nothing to get in his way. "At the start, Jenson set a mind blowing pace: it was as though I was driving in the wet and he was in the dry," he said. "But after a few laps, everything came up to temperature and I was able to push. Fortunately, after that, I was able to maintain my pace, while his seemed to drop off."
Button put up a game fight but BAR can't yet match the Scuderia over a race distance. However, this weekend proved that Ferrari can be challenged and all kudos to Button, BAR and Honda for doing it. It's surely won't be long before Button scores that first victory, although Honda might try and get Sato to the finish more often.
"It's another step forward, second this time, but Michael was a bit too quick for us today," said BAR team boss David Richards, adding that Button had eased off a bit after Sato's engine blew. "It wasn't really a worry but he did back off the revs towards the end."
While Michael's strategy won through, Barrichello had a poor time. The Brazilian simply couldn't escape the clutches of Renault and Williams and sixth is certainly not where Rubens would have expected to finish. Montoya had a lonely race until Alonso caught up at the end but Imola is a hard track for overtaking and it seems unlikely Fernando could have done anything about it if he had the time.
A good, solid performance from Renault, if a little sluggish in the mid-stages of the race, and much the same from Williams. Sauber were the best of the rest, ninth and tenth for Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa respectively, and Coulthard struggled home to a disappointing 12th. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Button, Montoya, Alonso, Trulli, Barrichello, R. Schumacher, Raikkonen.