Schumacher crash hands Trulli first win

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The Independent Online

The film producer George Lucas visited the recent Bahrain Grand Prix, and must have given Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley a few tips on the script for Monaco. It turned out to be a Hollywood blockbuster that began with a dramatic accident, was spiced by yet another acrimonious clash between Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, and came down to a breathtaking duel between the eventual winner, Jarno Trulli, and his challenger, Jenson Button, that saw them less than half a second apart at the finish. It was just the boost a bruised sport needed.

The film producer George Lucas visited the recent Bahrain Grand Prix, and must have given Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley a few tips on the script for Monaco. It turned out to be a Hollywood blockbuster that began with a dramatic accident, was spiced by yet another acrimonious clash between Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, and came down to a breathtaking duel between the eventual winner, Jarno Trulli, and his challenger, Jenson Button, that saw them less than half a second apart at the finish. It was just the boost a bruised sport needed.

Japan's Takuma Sato made the start of the century to blast from eighth place to fourth going into the first corner. On the way he shoved Schumacher's slow-starting Ferrari aside, nearly clouted his BAR-Honda team-mate, Button, yet still managed to sneak ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes so that the two BARs chased the two Renaults of Trulli and Fernando Alonso.

Sato's engine was already smoking controversially, however, and on the third lap, in an unenviable advertisement for Honda, it exploded. The resultant cloud of thick grey smoke blocked following drivers' vision and, in an ugly incident, David Coulthard was struck from behind by Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber, which overturned on to the right-hand barrier. The Italian extracted himself from his wrecked car once everything had gone quiet and the safety car was deployed.

The race resumed on the eighth lap, and developed into a scrap between the Renault drivers, with Button chasing hard as Raikkonen held off Schumacher. Race strategies gradually became clear as Button refuelled on lap 18, Raikkonen 19, Rubens Barrichello 20, Trulli 24, Alonso 25 and Schumacher 26. The stops had moved the champion ahead of Button, but Trulli and Alonso were still fighting hammer and tongs.

Schumacher was making little ground on the Renaults until he came upon a mangled one on lap 42. It was Alonso's, the Spaniard having got off line and spun off while exiting the chicane to lap the tardy Ralf Schumacher. "He ignored the blue flags for the first seven corners, slowed down to let me by at the entrance to the tunnel, then got back on the throttle and pushed me wide," Alonso complained. "There's no grip on the outside there, and I lost control. It's extremely frustrating, and cost us a one-two finish."

The incident changed the complexion of the race, as the safety car was deployed again. While they were behind it, according to Trulli, Schumacher and a lapped Montoya began getting into another grudge match. Going through the tunnel on lap 46, the Ferrari driver said he braked hard to keep the heat in his brakes. Montoya had to take avoiding action and they touched, Schumacher hitting the left-hand barrier hard enough to smash his left front suspension. His quest to equal Ayrton Senna's record of six Monaco triumphs, and to win the first six races of a season, was over.

"Michael braked very hard as he was warming up his brakes," Montoya said, "and I moved to the right side of the track to avoid him but the gap narrowed and we touched." Schumacher declined to comment initially.

Now the race belonged to two men who had never won a grand prix. On lap 47 they were four seconds apart, by lap 51, 6.7sec. But then Button cleared traffic and hit his stride, carving it down lap after lap.

As the race moved into its final gripping laps, it was edge of the seat stuff, but Trulli kept his nerve and after they sped through the Rascasse corner for the 77th and final time, the gap was less than half a second. The Italian had scored his maiden triumph in the best possible way, and Button had lost with great honour. It was fabulous stuff, grand prix racing the way it should be.

"It is hard to express what I am feeling right now," Trulli said. "Yesterday, I took my first pole position and said that all I needed now was a first win. To do so is a wonderful feeling. I believed in myself and the team, and hoped that maybe we could win here. To be honest, the way the race turned out really didn't help me: each time I built up a gap, the safety car came out, and I had quite a lot of trouble with traffic. But the car was perfect, the strategy correct and the pit-stops were fantastic."

Button said: "I was really struggling with traffic. I was sat behind Cristiano da Matta for three and a half laps which was just... I've never seen anything like it, I really haven't. They took a lap to get their blue flags out but he had blue flags for two and a half laps. I'll be having a word with him afterwards because it's just not on. It was pathetic."

Barrichello survived for third despite brake problems on his birthday. Montoya was a lapped fourth, and just to complete a wonderful race, Sauber's Felipe Massa held off Da Matta's Toyota for fifth by a mere tenth of a second after a great tussle. Behind them another of the race's stars, Nick Heidfeld, brought Jordan two points for seventh.

The stewards later declared the Schumacher/Montoya accident a racing incident. Eventually, a heavily censored Schumacher said: "The situation is that the race leader was knocked out after being hit by a backmarker, though I am sure there was no deliberate intention on his part." Assuredly, this will not be the last time that the pair's mutual antipathy boils over into controversy.

RACE DETAILS

1 J Trulli (It) Renault 1hr 45min 46.601sec

2 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda 1:45:47.098

3 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:47:02.367

4 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW at 1 lap

5 F Massa (B) Sauber-Petronas +1

6 C da Matta (Br) Toyota +1

7 N Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan-Cosworth +2

8 O Panis (Fr) Toyota +3

9 Z Baumgartner (Hun) Minardi-Cosworth +6

10 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW +8

Not classified: 11 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 45 laps; 12 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 41; 13 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 27 14 G Bruni (It) Minardi-Cosworth 15 15 G Pantano (It) Jordan-Cosworth 12 16 M Webber (Aus) Jaguar 11 17 T Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda 2 18 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 2 19 G Fisichella (It) Sauber-Petronas 2 20 C Klein (Aut) Jaguar 0.

Fastest lap: M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1min 14.439sec (lap 23).

Manufacturers' Championship Standings: 1 Ferrari 88pts; 2 Renault 52; 3 BAR-Honda 40; 4 Williams-BMW 35; 5 Sauber-Petronas 7; 6 McLaren-Mercedes 5; 7 Toyota 4; 8 Jordan-Cosworth 2; 9 Jaguar 1.

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