Schumacher puts his campaign back on track
Arriving in Italy last year, the row over the width of Michelins front tyres dominated the headlines. Ferrari and Bridgestone had protested to the FIA that, when worn, their rivals' rubber exceeded the 270mm tread width limit by 5mm. Bad feelings abounded.
But when it mattered, on a circuit where tyre and chassis performance were less important than engine power, low drag and braking efficiency, Michael Schumacher not only delivered pole position, but a perfect race performance.
His 50th victory since joining Ferrari back in 1996 finally unseated Englishman Peter Gethin as the victor of historys fastest-ever Grand Prix. In 1971, the jockeys son had ridden his BRM to a hairs breadth success at a speed of 242.615 kph. Schumachers winning average, on a circuit since raddled with chicanes, 247.585 kph.
There were many things that came together here, said Schumacher. Its quite a while ago since we last won in 2003. Weve had some tough races behind us. Then we had the summer break and a big push in the team and at the factory. Everyone was very motivated, more than 100 percent. Its been an unbelievable thing to watch. Today was one of the greatest days of my career. I am so in love with all those guys in the team, from the designers and engineers and mechanics to the lady who sweeps the factory. To all of them, a big thank you!
Schumacher had only one dangerous moment. It came after the first chicane, where he almost overshot. By the second, archrival Juan Pablo Montoya went sneaking down the outside and actually nosed ahead. Whoever emerged in the lead would almost certainly win the race. And since he was running a notch more rear wing than his team had recommended and therefore would be slower on the straight than Schumacher Montoya desperately needed the lead. But Schumacher denied him, holding hid nerve after some gripping side-by-side racing, and regained the initiative by the exit. The race was effectively over.
It was very hard but fair, Schumacher said afterwards, and a vital factor in winning the race.
Montoya got within a second of Schumacher late in the race, but was then blocked, first by rookie Zsolt Baumgartner, and then by veteran Heinz-Harald Frentzen. In the end Montoya settled for a damage-limiting second place. I decided to pace myself to the end, he admitted. It would have been hard to pass Michael anyway.
Crucially, from a championship perspective, Barrichello fended off Raikkonen all the way, the duo finishing less than a second apart, six and a half seconds behind Montoya. Coulthard should have been fifth, but his McLaren lost fuel pressure on the 46th lap, handing the place to Spaniard Marc Gene, who substituted splendidly for Ralf Schumacher at Williams after the German complained of dizziness on Friday in the wake of a testing accident at the track the previous week. Jacques Villeneuve had a reliable run to sixth, Mark Webber was seventh and Fernando Alonso pipped Nick Heidfeld for eighth with a lap to run.
Suddenly, Ferrari was back on track and the Prancing Horse had broken into full gallop again.