Michael Schumacher put Ferrari's last few troubled races behind him at Monza to win the Italian Grand Prix in front of the crowds of ecstatic Tifosi. Second placed Juan Pablo Montoya made a terrific challenge on the first lap but couldn't get past...
Michael Schumacher put Ferrari's last few troubled races behind him at Monza to win the Italian Grand Prix in front of the crowds of ecstatic Tifosi. Second placed Juan Pablo Montoya made a terrific challenge on the first lap but couldn't get past the Ferrari and he remained behind Schumacher until the line. Rubens Barrichello came home a sedate third in what was a fairly processional race.
Giancarlo Fisichella was thwarted at the start of the formation lap when his Jordan crawled off the grid with electronic gremlins. He ducked into the pits and started the race from there. A clean start saw at the front Schumacher lead from pole but at the back, Fernando Alonso, who spun in qualifying and was demoted to the rear of the grid, hit the back of Jos Verstappen's Minardi.
Verstappen had faltered behind the ailing Jaguar of Justin Wilson: the Renault went nose up into the air briefly but came down four square and Alonso had to pit for a new nose cone. Verstappen also pitted and he too managed to rejoin the race. Unfortunately he later retired with an oil leak.
Montoya made his charge on Schumacher through the Lesmos and they went side by side, fighting like mad for dominance but it was Schumacher that held the lead from the Williams. While that scrap was going on, Jarno Trulli, who jumped up to third at the start, had a go at Montoya but then abruptly slowed and the Renault came to a halt at the side of the track with a suspected hydraulics failure.
"I had a very good start," said Trulli. "I was fighting with Michael and Montoya almost but then I had some kind of drive problem, everything on the car just stopped."
Wilson suffered transmission problems from the outset and was in the pits almost straight away. He rejoined the race but returned to the pits shortly afterwards, this time for good. Cristiano da Matta had the only big drama of the afternoon when, early on, his Toyota blew a tyre and sent him spinning off the tack at Parabolica.
"It's difficult to say exactly what it was," said the Brazilian, who was unharmed. "Maybe I ran over some carbon fibre or something, I don't know."
After the initial excitement, the race settled down into a fairly static event. Schumacher was pulling away from Montoya and while fourth placed Kimi Raikkonen was in touch with Barrichello, in third, the McLaren was never really a threat. Teammate David Coulthard was the first to pit and there were no problems for the rest of the field, which reeled in car by car on the next few laps.
Montoya had a slight front wing adjustment in his stop after complaining of oversteer and it seemed to have made a difference for a while. The order remained the same but Montoya started reeling Schumacher in, lap by lap, tenth by tenth, until he was less than a second behind, but not quite close enough.
Jenson Button, who was running sixth for BAR, developed a gear box problem and had to retire: "As soon as you lose one gear, you've got a problem," he said. "You strip the other gears as you go through the box. I lost second, then first, then the rest followed. I had a problem with my launch control too, which was a bit disappointing."
Alonso, who was running a lap down after his initial incident, skipped the chicane and again the Renault left the ground, parts of the car floor flying off after hitting the speed bumps, but the Spaniard carried on regardless.
Despite Montoya's charge in the middle stint of the race, the second round of pit stops saw the order remain the same. The second Toyota of Olivier Panis coasted to a halt at the side of the track with a brake problem, promoting Sauber's Heinz-Harald Frentzen to seventh but he lost it when his car failed on the final lap.
Montoya got entangled in traffic in the closing stages and seemed to lose his momentum, the gap between him and Schumacher widening to over second seconds again. Raikkonen was closing on Barrichello but never enough to do anything about him and Gené was edging up to Coulthard. He didn't have to make the effort to challenge as Coulthard's McLaren gave up and he pulled off into the pit lane.
"I think it was the engine," said the Scot. "But I don't know if it was caused by an electronic problem or something else. The car had a lot of oversteer in the race and we dropped some wing in the pit stop but I still had oversteer." McLaren reported after the race that it was a fuel pressure problem.
The retirements shuffled everyone up the order resulting in a sixth place finish for Jacques Villeneuve, after a good race for the Canadian. Mark Webber, who had a fairly anonymous time in the Jaguar, moved up to seventh. Alonso's eventful afternoon translated into eighth after he overtook Sauber's Nick Heidfeld in the closing laps.
Schumacher's win moves him three points ahead of Montoya in the title fight and Raikkonen's fourth keeps him just in touch, four points behind the Colombian. Gené's commendable fifth keeps Williams ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors' standings, but two Ferraris on the podium at Monza closes the gap to four points.
A good, trouble free drive from Schumacher, aside from the contretemps with Montoya on the first lap, resulted in a deserved win and the German's 50th victory with Ferrari. A three-way fight still exists for the title, although Raikkonen would need an awful lot of luck, and the top two equal bad luck, for him to succeed.
Indianapolis is next, a circuit that usually suits Williams, but, of course, that doesn't necessarily guarantee anything. Ferrari will be eager to consolidate its good performance at Monza and with only two races to go, it's going to be a fight every inch of the way. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Montoya, Barrichello, Raikkonen, Gené, Villeneuve, Webber, Alonso.