Raikkonen has last laugh but wheels come off for Button

Giancarlo Fisichella, Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button all left Montreal's Ile Notre Dame with their heads down yesterday, as Kimi Raikkonen got the last laugh after the anguish of his last lap a fortnight ago in Germany.

Not even a steering problem, or the intervention of the safety car after Button hit the wall on lap 47 could stop the flying Finn.

Michael Schumacher gave it a pretty good shot, though, the world champion enjoying his best race since Imola in April to lead home Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the other two podium positions.

"Actually, there was a point when I thought I could win," Schumacher said after yet another gripping 2005 grand prix. "On lap 64 Kimi made a mistake in turn four and I thought, 'Great!' But he recovered..."

This was the Michael of yesteryear, looking content as he added: "I struggled in the beginning, but the tyres went quite well after that. When it was drizzling at one stage, I was dancing in the car. We are making progress." At the start it looked anything but promising for Schumacher. From pole Button beat the Ferrari away, only to have Fisichella and Alonso to come either side of him in a Renault pincer movement to grab the lead. Behind Button, Schumacher lost more ground to the McLarens of Montoya and Raikkonen.

Until his first refuelling stop on the 25th lap Fisichella was able to maintain a variable lead over his team-mate, who could be heard on the radio to his pit urging them to instruct the Italian to move over.

After his pit stop on lap 26 Fisichella nursed a five-second lead as Alonso was held up in lapped traffic, but then the gap came tumbling down until the Spaniard grabbed the lead with ease on lap 33. Fisichella's car had been suffering an hydraulic problem, and to Renault chief Flavio Briatore's dismay, the Italian parked his car in the pits at the end of the lap.

While the Renaults had been battling, the McLarens had hit their stride and Montoya was closing in. But this was not to be the mercurial Colombian's greatest day. Leaving the pits on lap 25 he ran wide in his desperation to snatch what was then second place from Alonso. Now, however, he was hunting him down. The gap fluctuated in traffic, but then Alonso clobbered a wall with his right rear wheel on lap 39, and suddenly the series leader was in trouble. He crept to the pits for a new tyre, but the throat cutting gestures from his mechanics signalled that suspension damage rendered that academic.

The race was Montoya's to lose - and lose it he did.

Button had been holding a comfortable, if outpaced, third place behind the McLarens, but at the end of lap 47 he made a rare error exiting the final corner and the wheels - the right front, at least - literally came off BAR's wagon.

Button was disconsolate. "It's a bummer," he said. But BAR chief Nick Fry forgave his sole error of the weekend and said: "He was pushing so hard on behalf of the team. He's a bit down in the dumps but I've ordered him to hold his head up high, put a smile on his face and have a couple of beers."

The safety car was deployed while the BAR was moved off the track, prompting a rash of pit stops. For some unfathomable reason, Montoya stayed out and it was Raikkonen, running three seconds behind, who ducked in first. By the time Montoya stopped at the end of lap 49 he had lost the lead to Raikkonen and then he compounded things by sailing out of the pits against the red light, and overtaking David Coulthard's lapped Red Bull. The latter was an academic misdemeanour - within two laps he was black flagged for his pit lane offence. Over and out.

Now Raikkonen was a comfortable leader, but he had a slight problem with his McLaren's steering, and Schumacher was closing in. Over the final laps they played nip and tuck, the Finn ultimately winning by just over a second.

"The steering problem started just before the first stop," he said. "On the straight the wheel was misaligned to the left. I told the team there was a problem, but they couldn't [pick up] anything on the data."

Typically, the Ice Man did not let thoughts of Nurburgring intrude. "Going into the last lap there was nothing in my mind," he admitted. "I just figured that if it was gonna break, it was gonna break. But I wasn't gonna let Michael past and this time the car lasted, so everything was okay."

Clever strategy got Barrichello home third from the back of the grid, and Felipe Massa was ecstatic to bring his Sauber home fourth despite Mark Webber breathing down his neck in his BMW Williams.

While you might not have realised it from his expression, Raikkonen was the happiest man in Montreal. The win has kept him in play for the championship, and the bad news for everyone else is that Indianapolis next weekend will also favour his silver arrows.

"Indy will suit our car better than this circuit, which hasn't been our strongest," Raikkonen muttered. "Our car has always been good there." Game on.

Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal): 1 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 32mins 09.290sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:32:10.291; 3 R Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 1:32:49.294; 4 F Massa (Bra) Sauber Petronas 1:33:04.291; 5 M Webber (Aus) Williams-BMW 1:33:04.297; 6 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota + 1 lap; 7 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull +1 lap; 8 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull +1 lap; 9 J Villeneuve (Can) Sauber-Petronas +1 lap; 10 T Monteiro (Por) Jordan-Toyota +3 laps; 11 C Albers (Neth) Minardi Cosworth +3 laps. Not Classified: 12 J Trulli (It) Toyota 62 laps completed; 13 J Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 52; 14 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda 46; 15 N Heidfeld (Ger) Williams-BMW 43; 16 T Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda 40; 17 P Friesacher (Ger) Minardi-Cosworth 39; 18 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 38; 19 G Fisichella (It) Renault 32; 20 N Karthikeyan (Ind) Jordan-Toyota 24.

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