Germany 2003 - masterful Montoya 20 Jul 2004
Juan Pablo Montoyas victory at Hockenheim, only the third of his career, was the most dominant of the season and moved him to within six points of local hero Michael Schumacher who, by contrast, had a torrid weekend, only finishing a distant seventh.
Blown off in practice and qualifying, the world champion had to play second fiddle to the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso for much of the race, and just when he had fought up to second place, his chances of a record sixth world crown took a serious dent with four laps to go when a punctured Bridgestone tyre dropped him down the order.
Montoyas relationship with his team might have been strained with a switch to McLaren becoming ever more likely, but as he left the carnage at the start behind him, all he had to do was keep up the pace. And he did it with only 93 percent throttle movement which cost him 10 kph off his top speed. Despite all that, it was, as he summarised, A perfect finish to a perfect weekend.
An accident at the start accounted for Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher Jnrs double blow proved that the bad luck at Hockenheim was not the exclusive preserve of his big brother. Slow away at the start, he moved to the left to defend his entry to the first corner against a challenge from British Grand Prix winner Barrichello, and ended up pinching the Brazilian into a collision with Raikkonen. Barrichello and Raikkonen retired immediately, while Schumacher only limped as far as the pits before retiring with heavy left-hand sidepod damage. The incident threatened to have a catastrophic effect on the championship aspirations of all three drivers. It also accounted for Jaguar debutant Justin Wilson, who hit Jacques Villeneuves BAR in the ensuing chain reaction. Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Ralph Firman also took an early bath after the latter ran into the former.
Immediately after the race a stewards enquiry held Ralf to blame for the crash and he was awarded a 10 grid place penalty for the forthcoming Hungarian Grand Prix, but that would be replaced with a hefty fine following an FIA appeal hearing in Paris. Another stewards enquiry, specially convened in Hungary, subsequently exonerated Barrichello and Raikkonen.
Once the safety car had pitted, Montoya initially eased away only partially from the fast-starting Renaults and Schumachers Ferrari, but soon his three-stop strategy paid dividends. He lost the lead to Alonso by refuelling on lap 18, but was so crushingly dominant that he retained the lead when he stopped again on laps 33 and 50.
Schumacher and the Renaults were all on two-stop strategies and it took the champion until lap 31 to pass Alonso, as the Spaniard made a rare error and ran wide going into the stadium. But it took him until lap 59 to outfox Trulli by going round the outside at the hairpin. The Italian tried to hold him out wide, but Schumacher out-dragged him on the controversial new Tarmac run-off area. On-song David Coulthard, having moved up from an initial sixth place, pulled off a similar move on Trulli the following lap, even though the Italian held him wide for almost the entire length of the ensuing straight. Second place was a much-needed result for Coulthard after his troubled season, and he drove an attacking race. Both Renaults made places back when Schumachers tyre failed on the 63rd lap.
The run of Williams successes was ringing every alarm bell in Maranello, but the summer testing ban meant that Ferrari and Bridgestone had limited means of digging themselves out of trouble as the championships climax loomed.