Juan Montoya battled a failing tyre in the closing stages of the Italian Grand Prix
to claim his second world championship victory of the season. However, the win was not enough to help McLaren
team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who saw his title hopes take another small blow.
Montoya led from start to finish, only ceding his advantage during the pit-stops windows, but had Fernando Alonso
dogging his every step, the Spaniard doing just enough to keep his title assault ticking over. With main rival Raikkonen starting back in eleventh after another pre-race engine change, the Renault
man knew that finishing had become his main priority.
Raikkonen made life difficult for himself at the start, falling behind Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber after a cautious getaway, but then not being able to clear the Canadian for several valuable laps. Although clearly the fastest man in F1 at the moment, and having set the 'pole' time with a heavier fuel load than any other driver, the Finn was aiming for a podium at best.
Montoya got the drop on Alonso at the start, and the Spaniard decided that there was no point going wheel-to-wheel with his rival through the tight opening chicane, slotting into second early on the run down to the right-hander. Those immediately behind also decided that discretion ought to be the better part of valour and, with the exception of Takuma Sato, who took a slightly unorthodox line, filed through politely.
Further back, however, the growing logjam caught a number of drivers out, with David Coulthard
tagging the back of Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault, breaking his front wing, and Mark Webber
doing likewise on the back of the Red Bull-Cosworth. Right at the back, a similar scenario was playing out, with final starter Christijan Albers being surprised by Narain Karthikeyan's line and spinning the Indian across the kerbs. All four victims would pit at the end of the lap, hampering their chances of featuring in the fastest race of the year.
Montoya, having already underlined the speed of the McLaren-Mercedes combination by reaching 372kph in testing, quickly established a cushion over his pursuers, with Alonso equally comfortable in second place. The Spaniard had been encouraged by the Renault's pace down the straights in practice, and eased away from the chasing pack, headed by Jenson Button.
The Briton had made a solid getaway, despite having been smoking on the startline, and fell into line behind the two front row men. Team-mate Sato lost a place to Jarno Trulli
because of his off-line entrance to the chicane, but was quickly back into fourth after daring to pass the Italian around the outside into Parabolica at the end of the lap.
Trulli initially appeared to have a problem, because both Rubens Barrichello
and Michael Schumacher quickly blew past the Toyota, although the German had to cut the chicane to get his move completed, and duly fell back into line behind Trulli to avoid incurring a penalty. Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher were right with this group, the Italian not showing any damage from DC's kiss, while Villeneuve and Raikkonen were not far adrift.
The Finn, however, was already ten seconds adrift of his team-mate, and would continue to fall further behind with every lap he was left to stare at the Sauber's rear wing. For all the McLaren's undoubted pace, it was only when the first pit-stop window 'opened' that the McLaren
man sensed a chance to progress, overtaking difficult such was his fuel load. Villeneuve was among the first of the stoppers, following the two Ferraris in on lap 14, but Raikkonen was, by now 30secs off the pace.