When the pace car finally departed, at the end of lap five, Schumacher left the rest of the field trailing as he leapt out to an immediate lead. For a while, it appeared as though the world champion was simply going to take the F2003-GA and run and hide from those behind him, but fears were allayed when Barrichello and Alonso pegged the gap at around a second. The Brazilian, however, was having trouble disposing of the Renault, as Alonso hung doggedly to the rear wing of the new Ferrari. A mistake from Barrichello on lap nine allowed the Spaniard to close even further in - and eked the gap to the leader out towards two seconds - but it was not until the pit-stops started that Alonso had any chance of squeezing through.
After the two Renaults annexed row two in qualifying, the usual debate over fuel loads suggested that both Alonso and Trulli hade been running lighter than the two Ferraris, maybe only by a little, but still lighter. Alonso's disappearance from Barrichello's mirrors on lap 17 tended to confirm the belief but, when the Scuderia called its cars in just two laps later, the thought that the local hero could challenge for victory rose again.
The noise from the terraces took on another decibel or two when it became clear that Alonso's pace in the intervening laps was quick enough to move him ahead of Barrichello, and the Renault
duly passed the pit exit as Barrichello trundled out of his refuelling bay. From that point on, it was a two-horse race for victory.
Behind the first three, the first corner melee had served to shuffle the order slightly, with Ralf Schumacher and Juan Montoya among the biggest gainers. The German was already into fourth before his brother and Barrichello enacted their close call, and held the position through until the second half of the race. Montoya, meanwhile, coming from ninth on the grid, benefited fro the Coulthard-Trulli touch, and then jumped Jenson Button
on the restart to slot in behind his team-mate.
Button then had BAR colleague Jacques Villeneuve on his tail - rather earlier than either would have expected given the three row difference in their qualifying performance - with Cristiano da Matta and Justin Wilson - after another electrifying start - making up an unlikely top ten. Villeneuve's race was not to last much longer than one-sixth distance, however, as, having succumbed to da Matta, his Honda engine repeated the smoking trick first seen at Imola and left a rather annoyed Canadian throwing his helmet around the pits.
''It's very frustrating,'' JV fumed, ''We took a lot of fuel and made ourselves look silly in qualifying by being so far behind what Jenson did, and then couldn't even use our different strategy in the race.''
The early retirements and pit-stops saw Wilson rise as high as eighth before he, too, had to stop for fuel, but to have even got that far was something of a relief for the lanky Briton. Before the race - as late as minutes before the pit-lane closed - the second Minardi was still being checked for an electrical problem, but Wilson was eventually allowed to join the grid, and again made outsiders sit up and take notice as he rocketed through the pack off the line. Some are saying that the 2001 F2000 champion should be being considered for the Jaguar seat should Pizzonia get the chop and, on this sort of form, it is hard not to understand why, as he expertly fended off a train comprising Giancarlo Fisichella, Mark Webber
and Coulthard until breaking off for fuel and tyres on lap 15.
DC's frustration was beginning to get the better of him for, having disposed of the Saubers, Ralph Firman and Jos Verstappen, he then found his progress being impeded by the queue of cars stacked up behind Wilson. Even when the Minardi released the bottleneck, Coulthard was not able to leap to the head of the queue and, in his haste to make up for lost time, did not recognise Jenson Button
as a threat for position. In doing so, McLaren
and BAR made contact in turn one, with Coulthard nosing across Button's bows and being spun into the gravel trap, Beached, the MP4-17D was going nowhere, and the Woking team could begin packing up earlier than at any time all season.
Button had to make a second stop to check over the car and replace the front wing, but the only other damage was to his hopes of converting a fine fifth place on the grid into serious points. Now at the back of the pack, and on the verge of going a lap down, clawing in a couple of marks was about the best he could aim for.
Alonso's pursuit of the leader was beginning to bear fruit for, the further the Ferrari
went from its pit-stop, the more the performance of its Bridgestones ebbed away. With the Renault's Michelin working in the opposite direction, the Spaniard was able to start lopping half seconds from the six-second margin between the two cars - until he, too, ran into traffic. Catching the duelling Minardis and Jordans at just the wrong time, he felt obliged to give rookie Firman a less than cheery wave after being slightly delayed, but gamely kept up the pursuit.