Barrichello wins, Schumacher stages superb comeback
For a time the Italian Grand Prix flirted with several drivers, none of them in red cars. It quickly spurned early leader Rubens Barrichello, who started on Bridgestones intermediate tyres on a surface rendered still damp and slippery after a morning of heavy rain.
But after four laps it had dried out sufficiently to let all of Michelins dry-tyred runners to close in. Fernando Alonso swiped the lead at Ascari on lap five, on which Barrichello pitted for dries, and Jenson Button, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen quickly went with the Spaniard to make it a four-way fight. Further back, the unthinkable had happened as Schumacher, on dry Bridgestones, floundered into a spin in the second chicane, where Olivier Paniss race ended in the gravel. With Takuma Sato blasting along fifth and Jarno Trulli sixth, things looked good for the French tyre company.
Alonso refuelled on lap 10, by which time the track was completely dry, and Montoya and Raikkonen came in three laps later, but Button went until lap 14 and was able to retain the lead. By lap 17 the Englishman was looking a good bet for his first win, running three seconds ahead of Alonso, with Montoya another 1.7s behind. Raikkonen had gone, however, victim of engine failure on lap 13. That left Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella (on a very long first stint for Sauber) fighting over fourth with Sato leading David Coulthard in sixth place and Mark Webber driving out of his skin for Jaguar to keep Schumacher down to ninth.
Gradually Alonso and Montoya were able to erode Buttons lead to around 1.5s as they headed for their second stops. Alonso and Montoya took them on lap 33, Button again stopping a lap later. But that was when the Italian Grand Prix turned its back on them all and swooned into the arms of her first love. Schumacher, having dropped as far back as 29 seconds at one stage, was now suddenly in the lead courtesy of a low fuel load and some very quick lappery.
Meanwhile, a very fast (6.3s stop) on lap 29, which had dropped him off the tail of the leading trio, was sufficient to jump Barrichello up to second place. When Schumacher pitted on lap 36, Rubens had it made, and was now nursing a 12.1s advantage over Button, who had Alonso still within striking distance. Montoya, however, had fallen back and was only sixth, behind Schumacher and Sato. Barrichello was on a light fuel load still, so he got his head down and built a 22.3s lead before making a third refuelling stop on lap 42. As he rejoined, Button was losing second place to Schumacher a little further back up the main straight, so against all the odds of the early going Ferrari were running one-two.
Moreover, Button was in a little brake temperature trouble and in no position to do anything but nurse his BAR to the flag, ahead of Satos sister car. That opportunity arose for the Japanese driver as Alonso had made a rare error on the 41st lap, taking too much kerb in the second chicane and spinning into the gravel. Controversially, the marshals refused to push start him from what seemed a dangerous position, as the rules permit them to, so he was out.
Montoya soldiered on to the finish, his car once again running slower in the final laps as he encountered gearbox problems. Slow enough for a major scrap between David Coulthard in the surviving McLaren and Antonio Pizzonia in the second Williams to start making serious inroads. Had the Brazilian not cost them both a little momentum when he tagged the back of the silver car in the first chicane on lap 52, both might have challenged the Colombian. Their incident also enabled Fisichella to close right in on them instead, so fifth to eighth places were covered by a mere three seconds after the 53 laps.
Webber kept up his pace to take ninth after a strong run, and his Jaguar was followed home by a desolate Jarno Trulli, who again found himself in a Renault that was difficult to drive. Ricardo Zonta was 11th for Toyota, chased by Felipe Massa who rose to sixth initially until his intermediate Bridgestones lost grip, and then later delayed himself by sliding into Nick Heidfelds Jordan and removing his own front wing. The German continued to take 14th, behind Christian Klien who drove with spirit in his Jaguar. After Gianmaria Brunis Minardi momentarily caught fire during its refuelling stop on lap 31, Zsolt Baumgartner was the final finisher.
Besides Panis (who understeered into the back of Pizzonia on the opening lap), Giorgio Pantano failed to finish after crashing his Jordan heavily at Parabolica on lap 35.
Barrichello set the fastest lap and eventually won by 1.347s from his team leader, his result virtually cementing his runner-up slot in the championship fight. But the poor result for Renault cost the Anglo-French team second in the constructors table, with BARs haul of 11 points pushing them three ahead with three races remaining.