Trulli then made hard work for himself by dropping to twelfth after an error, but wasted little time in reclaiming the lost ground. Often coming from a long way back in his lightweight Renault, the Italian deposed Olivier Panis, McNish, Nick Heidfeld
and Felipe Massa
in short order to resume in eighth place behind his team-mate. The incident, however, would later count against him.
Renault's pressure eventually told, however, as Raikkonen locked up under braking for the first turn on lap 17, allowing Button through into sixth spot, and the Briton, clearly faster than his Finnish rival owing to a lower fuel load, quickly put air between them as he hunted down Coulthard for fifth.
The gap between the leaders and the pursuing pack was growing rapidly, however, and Barrichello had already opened out a 22secs advantage over Ralf Schumacher by the time of Raikkonen's error. The gap between the front two, however, had shrunk as Schumacher Sr turned on the pace, and less than a second remained for the world champion to close when the moment that decided the race occurred.
Running in the turbulence behind his team-mate, Schumacher's car suddenly snapped sideways as he rounded the RTL Kurve, spinning the German onto the recently-introduced tarmac run-off, from where he was able to resume. A vital ten seconds now existed between first and second, however, and the world champion was really going to have to charge if he was to be in a position to inherit a 60th career win.
Ferrari reacted almost immediately, calling Schumacher in for his first pit-stop on lap 24, but, by turning Barrichello around in exactly the same time, resisted the temptation to shuffle the order. The gap between the two was slightly reduced courtesy of Schumacher's pace on his in and out laps, but the German still had work to do.
The two scarlet cars returned to the fray without losing a place between them, leaving much of the non-Ferrari interest focused on the battle for fourth between Montoya and Coulthard. Despite both running a one-stop strategy, the McLaren
was using its Michelin tyres better than the Williams
and, on lap 28, moved to the outside to pass at turn one.
Montoya, naturally, held the inside line in an attempt to defend but, misjudging both the condition of his rubber and the dip that characterises the start of the new section, lost the back of his car and spun. Just when it appeared that Coulthard had the pass made, however, rear of the Williams
snagged front of McLaren
,stranding the Scot on the outside of the corner with deranged suspension. Montoya was later gracious enough to admit that the tangle was entirely his fault, but that was of little consolation to DC, who appeared to be headed for a third successive podium.
The incident allowed Schumacher Jr and Raikkonen - now back ahead of Button after the Briton pitted - to battle over third, and the issue was decided when Williams
called its man in just two laps after his team-mate spun out. The German was likewise suffering with tyre wear, and almost lost his car when the back bobbled on the pit entry road. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was able to push on for another five laps, and made enough time to be able to exit in front of the Williams. The Finn's front tyres appeared as close to the mark as possible, but McLaren
had clearly done its homework once it appeared impossible to fight for pole.
With the second round of Ferrari
stops fast approaching, the amount of radio traffic from pit to drivers was noticeable - particularly as much of it appeared to be directed in Barrichello's favour. Was the Scuderia contemplating a switch in the pits......
Again, however, almost identical stationary times kept the two leaders in position and prompted speculation that Barrichello, after all, may be able to at least fight for victory. Schumacher would not necessarily be stopped from hounding the Brazilian, but it was unlikely that Rubinho would be asked to move aside for him.