Montoya achieves prestigious Monte Carlo-Indy double
Juan Pablo Montoya emerged an emotional victor of a Monaco Grand Prix that could have gone the way of the pursuing Kimi Raikkonen or Michael Schumacher. After 78 gruelling laps of the Monte Carlo streets that left even the super-fit Schumacher looking drained, only 1.720s separated the three of them.
The win could not have come at a better time for Williams, busy negotiating the renewal of their engine partnership with BMW beyond 2004. It not only prevented Michael Schumacher from equalling the late Ayrton Sennas record of six victories in the Principality, but made Montoya the only man other than the late Graham Hill to have won both the Monaco Grand Prix and the equally prestigious Indianapolis 500.
Team mate Ralf Schumacher and rival Raikkonen had the upper hand in qualifying, but Montoya passed the Finn in the first corner. There was a brief interlude when the safety car was deployed between the second and fourth laps to clear away the wreckage of Heinz-Harald Frentzens Sauber, and then Schumacher Jnr pulled away in the lead. But Montoya wasnt worried and kept ahead of Raikkonen and Trulli, whose presence in fourth place was distinctly harmful to Schumacher Snr, who was bottled up behind the Renault and struggling on his Bridgestone tyres.
Schumacher Jnr led the first 21 laps, at which point he took his first refuelling stop, handing the lead to Montoya, who himself stopped on lap 23. Raikkonen had two laps in front before his stop on lap 25. Michael Schumacher did not stop until lap 31, but although falling behind Montoya and Raikkonen when he rejoined, eventually moved up to third place. Another heavy fuel load in his second stint did not allow him to make much headway.
Raikkonen went four laps longer than Montoya on the second stops lap 53 against lap 49 and again Schumacher Snr did a long stint, running until 59. Thus the stage was set for a gripping confrontation in the closing laps as Raikkonen put Montoya under massive pressure and Schumacher played catch-up. As their individual strategies played out, it created the most genuinely fascinating race so far under the new regulations that were introduced for the 2003 season. Overtaking is relatively impossible at Monaco, however. Montoya readily admitted that he made a few small errors in the closing laps, as Raikkonen pushed really hard and brought the deficit down to below a second, but none of them was sufficient to jeopardise his success. When the chequered flag finally fell, he still had 0.6s in hand over Raikkonen, who was 1.1s ahead of Schumacher. Everybody at BMW-Williams really needed this win so much, Montoya said.
Overshadowed by the fight ahead of him, Ralf Schumacher yet again faded and could only finish fourth, but at least he was clear of the fight between David Coulthard and the Renaults for fifth place. The Scot, like Schumacher Snr before him, found himself bottled up behind the impassable Trulli for much of the race, but stopping as late as possible allowed Fernando Alonso to vault ahead of both of them with 17 laps to run. Rubens Barrichello, in the second Ferrari, had a quiet race and was never able to challenge them.
Montoyas victory took him into equal fifth place in the championship chase as Raikkonen stemmed the recent tide and extended his lead over Schumacher to four points. Meanwhile, Williams first win in Monte Carlo since Keke Rosberg triumphed back in 1983, moved them up to third place in the constructors table as McLaren moved back ahead of Ferrari, who had lacked their usual strength. Nobody knew at the time, but the Williams onslaught had begun.