Rubens Barrichello stood on top of the podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but his appearance there belied another dominant performance from Michael Schumacher in the United States Grand Prix.
The German controlled the race from start to finish, emerging ahead of his team-mate after both of his scheduled pit-stops and monitoring the gap between them until the final corner, when he casually allowed his F2002 to ride higher than usual on the famous banking to let Barrichello through. Schumacher claimed that, in a season full of records, he was trying to create another by manufacturing a dead-heat, but there were those in the audience who saw it merely as another cynical piece of stage management.
The majority of the 73 laps passed without incident for the Scuderia, with its two cars running 1-2 for the entire race distance. Schumacher got the jump at the start to head Barrichello and David Coulthard
- who drew alongside the Brazilian - into turn one. In their wake, the entire field made it through unscathed, but was already chasing the world champion who, with Barrichello in close attendance, began to draw inexorably away.
By the end of the fifth lap, Schumacher had a gap of just over a second back to his team-mate and, although that ebbed and flowed as they navigated the traffic, Barrichello was never within passing distance. Lap records were exchanged with some regularity, such was the pace at the front ahead of the first round of stops, and Coulthard was soon some six seconds and more in arrears.
The Scot's tenure of third place was eased at the end of the opening lap, when the two Williams
drivers chasing him tangled coming off the main straight. Ralf Schumacher, ahead, tried to fend off the challenge of team-mate Juan Montoya - who had made a slow start from grid four - but succeeded only in clipping the inside kerb when the Colombian pinched down on him. The corner marker unsettled the rear of the German's FW24 and he spun, tail first towards the second Williams, breaking the wing clean off on Montoya's right corner as the Colombian passed by. Montoya was delayed in the incident, and resumed in seventh, but Ralf would lose an entire lap as the Williams
mechanics slaved to fit a new wing, rejoining last of all.
The incident - which is sure to sour relations between the two Williams
drivers even further - allowed Jarno Trulli, Kimi Raikkonen
and Jacques Villeneuve to move up a place apiece without making a true overtaking move but, further back, the innovative use of Indianapolis' famous banking was providing the capacity crowd with all manner of thrills.
Mika Salo, starting on the last row after a miserable qualifying session, was the man on the move, climbing into the heart of the midfield very early on, while Takuma Sato showed that he can be a force to reckon with as he passed returning veteran Heinz-Harald Frentzen not once, but twice in the space of three corners.
With the long-forgotten art of slipstreaming brought back into vogue by the American layout, Taku drafted up behind the German's Sauber approaching turn one, only to find the road rapidly disappearing from beneath him. Undeterred, the Japanese rookie kept his foot in across the grass, narrowly missing grateful recipient Jenson Button
as he rejoined, and proceeded to repass Frentzen at turn three. This time, the move stuck, and Sato was quickly on his way in pursuit of Button and team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella.
Villeneuve ensured that the top six would not be devoid of passing opportunities, however, as, after one rebuffed attempt, he managed to slice past Raikkonen at the beginning of the straight, and quickly closed in on Trulli. Part of the reason for the Canadian's pace was the growing presence of the recovering Montoya in his mirrors, and the Colombian soon returned to the point by also passing Raikkonen, who was exhibiting the first signs of a poorly engine.