Italian keeps his cool to take popular maiden win
After five Ferrari victories, Monaco was a proverbial shot in the arm for the 2004 season. Not only did Michael Schumacher not win, he didnt even finish. Team mate Rubens Barrichello made the podium in third, but he was well over a minute behind the winning Renault of Jarno Trulli and Jenson Buttons second-placed BAR.
Practice had not suggested such an upset. Schumacher topped every session, though tellingly, while he was dominant on Thursday, by Saturdays second stint, his advantage over Trulli was just 0.002s, with only two tenths separating the top five drivers. Trulli made good on his threat in qualifying, storming to the first pole of his Formula One career. There was a Schumacher alongside him on row one, but it was Ralf not Michael. The champion was left languishing in fifth - not a good place to be at Monaco, where overtaking is all but impossible.
Spectacular was the only word to describe the race start, in particular that of Takuma Sato. The BAR driver blasted from eighth on the grid to seize fourth by Ste Devote, quite literally shoving Schumachers slow-starting Ferrari aside. But his glory was short lived. On lap three his Honda engine expired and the ensuing smoke screen claimed the Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella and David Coulthards McLaren. Meanwhile, up front the Renaults of Trulli and Alonso were the class of the field. A late stop for Michael Schumacher lifted him ahead of Button to third and when Alonsos R24 emerged from the tunnel in a mangled state on lap 42 he inherited second. The Spaniard had gone off line to lap the ailing Williams of Ralf Schumacher and promptly spun into the wall.
The incident brought out the safety car, prompting many, including leader Trulli, to pit. It left Schumacher leading the field, his rivals wondering whether Ferrari had made a tactical gaffe by not bringing him in. The question was soon rendered irrelevant, however. On the final safety car lap Schumacher braked hard in the tunnel (to keep his brakes hot, he said) and a lapped Juan Pablo Montoya had to take sudden avoiding action to the right. As Schumacher closed the gap they collided, Schumacher hitting the left-hand wall, smashing off his left front wheel and ending his hopes of matching Ayrton Sennas six Monaco wins.
That set the stage for an epic showdown between leader Trulli and the chasing BAR of Button. The gap, almost seven seconds at one point, fluctuated as the pair weaved their way through traffic, putting in consistent qualifying-style laps in between lapping backmarkers. In the closing laps Button was right on the Renaults gearbox, but Trulli kept his cool and took the chequered flag just four tenths ahead of the BAR to clinch his first Grand Prix win. Barrichello, nursing a brake problem, was the only other man on the same lap. Further down, Toyota had plenty to celebrate, with Cristiano da Matta sixth and Olivier Panis eighth, while Nick Heidfeld took Jordans first points of the year in seventh.
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