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Trulli takes control in Monte Carlo 23 May 2004

Pole sitter Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte Carlo, 22 May 2004 Pole sitter and first time race winner Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004 The Renault R24 of Fernando Alonso (ESP) is recovered by marshalls after crashing out of the tunnel as Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 passes, only to suffer a similar fate under the safety car..
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 returns to the pits after hitting the wall in the tunnel under the safety car.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24  celebrates his first win with Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault Team Principal 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004

Michael Schumacher’s winning form ended in spectacular style in Monaco, with Jarno Trulli taking his maiden victory in one of the most demanding races of the season. Jenson Button came home in second place, the young Englishman’s fourth podium of the season, and Rubens Barrichello finished third.

The race was packed with incident. If viewers said it once, they must have said it 10 times for each of the 77 laps to which the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix ran - “ what a fantastic race!”

After the initial start had to be aborted when Olivier Panis’s Toyota developed a clutch problem, it began properly with Takuma Sato making the start of the century to blast from eighth place into fourth going into Ste Devote, shoving Michael Schumacher’s slow-starting Ferrari aside along the way. The Renaults of pole-sitter Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso made use of their excellent traction to jump ahead of Jenson Button’s BAR, and Sato narrowly avoided hitting his own team-mate while simultaneously squeezing ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren.

But that was only the start of it all. Right away Sato’s Honda V10 was smoking badly, as he fought off Raikkonen, Schumacher, Barrichello, Coulthard, Montoya, Webber and Fisichella. On the third lap, exiting Tabac, the engine exploded in oil smoke, and all hell let loose as the following drivers were faced with an impenetrable grey fog. As Coulthard slowed he was struck from behind by Fisichella’s Sauber, which overturned on to the right-hand barrier as others picked their way through.

As the safety car was deployed, Fisichella waited until the lack of noise signalled that the accident was over, then released himself, thankfully completely unharmed but highly frustrated. Things were cleared up quickly enough for racing to resume on the eighth lap, and for a while the two Renault drivers went at it with Trulli leading Alonso, as Button chased after them. Qualifying strategies became clearer as Button pitted on lap 18, Raikkonen 19, Barrichello 20, Trulli 24, Alonso 25 and Schumacher 26. When things settled down that had moved the champion ahead of Button, but Trulli and Alonso were still fighting hammer on tongs.

By now the race was just past one-third distance and already Klien had crashed out on lap one, Sato had blown up, Fisichella and Coulthard had gone because of the resultant accident, Webber rolled to a halt with no drive, Pantano’s gearshift stopped working and Bruni packed it in and Raikkonen’s pneumatic valve gear had malfunctioned. So much for Formula One racing’s recent run of incredible reliability. Already it was clear this one was not running to 2004 form.

Schumacher was not making much ground on the Renaults, until lap 42, when he passed one of them in mangled state on the exit to the tunnel. It was Alonso’s, the Spaniard having spun while moving off line to lap a gear-troubled Ralf Schumacher.

This was the incident that really changed the face of the race, for while the field was running under the safety car Schumacher braked hard in the tunnel (to keep his brakes hot, he said) and a lapped Montoya had to take sudden avoiding action to the right. As Schumacher closed the gap they collided, Schumacher hitting the left-hand wall and smashing off his left front wheel. He dragged his damaged car back to the pits, and there the recriminations began. Both drivers were later called before the stewards but eventually it was decided that no action would be taken against either.

Schumacher’s quest to equal Ayrton Senna’s record of six Monaco wins was over, not to mention winning six 2004 races in a row. But now two men who had never won a Grand Prix had it all to fight for.

When they started racing again on lap 47 the gap was four seconds, but there was traffic between Trulli and Button. Quickly the Italian opened this to 6.7s by lap 51, but after that Button hit his stride and began carving it down. It was 3.5s by lap 68, and then traffic played another role. As the race moved into its final laps there was less than a second between them and it was anyone’s race. This was precisely the shot in the arm that Formula One racing needed, and when they sped through Rascasse for the 77th and final time the gap was less than half a second. But Trulli had clung on, kept his head under pressure, and scored his maiden triumph in the best possible way. “It feels wonderful, just wonderful,” he beamed. “And now, just like I was in karting and Formula Three, all I really want to do is sleep.”

Button took second with great honour, and Barrichello survived for third despite brake problems. Montoya was a lapped fourth, and just to complete a wonderful race Felipe Massa held off Cristiano da Matta for fifth by a tenth of a second after a great tussle. Behind them, another of the race’s stars, Nick Heidfeld, brought Jordan two points for seventh and Panis completed the scorers with eighth.

The result barely made a dent in Schumacher’s or Ferrari’s championship leads, but Button and Trulli are closing on Barrichello’s second place and Sauber vaulted into fifth place ahead of McLaren as Toyota closed to within a point of the British team.

Without question, this was the best race in a long time. Trulli outstanding!