Running unmolested for the first in a grand prix this season, Ralf Schumacher was able to lead from start to finish and claim a maiden F1 victory at Imola.
With brother Michael having to retire before half-distance in front of his adoring Ferrari
fans, Ralf upheld family honour with a drive very reminiscent of the world champion. Ahead for all but the first few hundred yards, the Williams
driver dominated proceedings, and completed the 62 laps without the sort of drama that has dogged his first three appearances this year.
Despite starting 'only' third on the grid, Schumacher Jr wasted little time in making his move to the front, putting his left-hand wheels perilously close to the grass in order to catapult past polesitter David Coulthard
on the run to Tamburello. The Scot appeared to get a little too much wheelspin away from the line, while team-mate Mika Hakkinen, starting alongside, suffered on the dirty side of the circuit and held up those starting behind him.
This allowed fifth place man Jarno Trulli
to follow Schumacher up the inside, squeezing past the Finn's McLaren
through the first chicane, and joining Ralf and Coulthard at the front of the field. Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, suffered behind Hakkinen, dropping to fifth, with Ferrari
team-mate Rubens Barrichello
faring even worse in dropping from sixth to eighth.
Trulli could not stay with either of the front two for long, as Ralf and Coulthard set a searing pace under the equally hot Italian sun. By the end of the opening lap, the gap was already approaching a second and, by the end of the third, it had jumped out to 5.5secs.
From then on, it was simply a case of how far - and how quickly - could the leaders extend their advantage in order to overcome the perceived penalty of having to make two stops on softer rubber. The tyre choice dilemma had been the talk of the paddock overnight, with Ferrari
opting for harder compounds and a single-stop strategy against McLaren's softer option, and opening out a substantial margin over Schumacher and Barrichello would be vital for success.
opposition took an early blow on lap four, when Michael Schumacher slowed coming out of the Traguardo chicane at the end of the lap. The German later pointed to gear selection trouble as the cause, but the moment dropped him behind both Juan Montoya and Olivier Panis, and, later in the lap, behind his team-mate too.
It soon became clear that the front-running Williams
had the legs on the home favourites, as the gap between the two Schumacher brothers opened out to twenty seconds with the first pit-stop window looming. Although both leaders were circulating at around two seconds a lap faster than anyone else, Ralf also had the upper hand on DC, and quickly had a four-second cushion back to the McLaren.
Further back, there was greater drama, for Michael Schumacher slowed dramatically on the run from Tosa to Piratella. With Panis reclaiming one of the places he had earlier lost to the Ferraris, Schumacher began the slow crawl back to the pits with a front left puncture, careful not to let the deflated rubber cause any more damage than was necessary to the front of his car. By the time he stopped for attention, the leaders were already more than halfway around their 24th lap, and Michael would quickly call it a day when further problems were detected with the Ferrari.