With debris scattered across the width of the main straight, the safety car was scrambled, and held the field in check for two further laps before unleashing it again. Montoya was on the case straight away, immediately pulling out a gap over the chasing pack, which was now headed by the Renaults of Jarno Trulli
and Fernando Alonso. Michael Schumacher, have escaped getting caught up in the accident, was fourth, with the top eight completed by Mark Webber, David Coulthard
and the two Toyotas.
With the exception of Coulthard passing Webber for fifth - both men having gained copious places in the confusion at turn one - the order at the front remained pretty static until the first round of pit-stops. At the back, Giancarlo Fisichella's torrid season appeared to be getting worse as he toured into the pits for a long investigation into a power loss, while both rookie Nicolas Kiesa and Villeneuve made early stops that dropped them to the tail of the field. With both Fisichella and Wilson rejoining, however, the running entry remained at 15.
Montoya was already rattling off fastest laps and, by lap 14, had a ten second advantage over Schumacher, who was hassling Alonso as Trulli pulled slowly away. Had it not been for the safety car period, the leader probably would have pulled away at the rate of a second a lap - something which it became obvious he could, and would, do for much of the race.
Trulli was the first to stop for more fuel and a change of tyres, signalling a wave of pit visits that showed that most of the field had gone to the grid intending to make three stops.
The leader was in three laps late - at the end of his 17th tour - and Ferrari
responded by pulling its remaining driver in at the same time. The difference in time between the length of the stops suggested that the Scuderia was attempting to change its ploy in an effort to affect the result, and Schumacher rejoined another second or so adrift of the Colombian.
The order remained largely unchanged through the pit window, save for Webber, who was among the last to stop - suggesting a two-stopper strategy from the off - falling further behind as the two Toyotas, Villeneuve, Nick Heidfeld
and Jenson Button
all found a way past the Jaguar. Behind the Australian, Kiesa continued to run his own race, determined not to get in the way of the leaders, and Fisichella plodded on, hoping for a high rate of attrition in search of points.
Schumacher eventually broke free of one of the Renaults when Alonso, possibly distracted by the sight of Kiesa slowing ahead of him, ran out of road entering the stadium section and grasstracked his way along the first of the tribunes. Once unleashed, Schumi quickly closed down on Trulli, the Italian giving his rival a helping hand by making a mistake of his own to let the two cars run nose-to-tail.
Despite the German's increased pace, Montoya's lead was now such that he would rejoin well in front after his second pit-stop. Trulli and Schumacher pitted at exactly the same time, five laps later than the Colombian, and added a bit of tension to the otherwise slow mid-race proceedings by both opting to fuel to the finish. Trulli was stationary for a second less than his rival, and duly rejoined still ahead, but questions were already being raised about the viability of each man's decision to try and cover the remaining 29 laps on one set of tyres.
Largely undetected among the scorching pace of Montoya and the increasing heat of competition for second place, David Coulthard
inched closer to a possible first podium since Melbourne as he sought to cut team-mate Raikkonen's losses in the championship race. The Scot had benefited from the skirmish at turn one, but had applied himself to recording regular laps thereafter and, despite the best efforts of his fuel hose to slow him up at his first stop, was within touching distance of the second place battle with just over ten laps remaining.
Barring misfortune in the remaining 18 tours - or at his final pit-stop - Montoya was home and hoping to be hosed, allowing the large and partisan crowd to switch its attention to the three-way scrap forming in his wake. Coulthard closed down on Schumacher at the rate of half a second a lap, with McLaren
team boss Ron Dennis insisting that the Scot's tyres were holding up better than those of either of his rivals, despite also only having stopped twice.