If Juan Pablo Montoya had been proud of his rise from 19th to second in the German Grand Prix
this season, he no longer has bragging rights in the McLaren
camp after team-mate Kimi Raikkonen
went from a similar position to take victory in a dramatic Japanese Grand Prix.
As has been known in the past at Suzuka, the race packed a lot into its 53 laps, with incidents from start to finish and enough intrigue to fill a shelf full of mystery novels after qualifying through up the most unusual grid of the year.
With new champion Fernando Alonso, predecessor Michael Schumacher and both McLaren
drivers marooned at the back of the field after being caught out by worsening conditions on Saturday, the start of the grand prix was always likely to be a fiery affair. Their ascent was aided at the first corner by Takuma Sato and Rubens Barrichello
going off, initially not together but with enough contact later on to require both to make pit-stops for repairs. The talking points did not end there, however, for, as Alonso and Schumacher broke into the top eight from 16th and 14th respectively, the two McLaren's attempted to find their way through the backmarkers.
Approaching the chicane for the first time, Montoya was surprised to see three cars immediately ahead of him cutting the obstacle but, in trying to take advantage of their errors, he found himself on the outside of Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber, and out of the Canadian's line of sight. The result was a heavy off for the Colombian, who ripped the side from his MP4-20, and halved McLaren's assault on the constructors' championship at a stroke.
With Alonso already breaking into the points, and Giancarlo Fisichella
having made a strong start to sit behind early leader Ralf Schumacher, Montoya's exit painted an even rosier picture for Renault, which was attempting to make up a two-point deficit on Ron Dennis' squad before the season reaches its denouement
At the front of the field, the start had gone relatively smoothly, with poleman Schumacher getting away cleanly to establish a comfortable lead over Fisichella, who had used the Renault's renowned traction to power past Jenson Button, who bogged down despite appearing to be on the better side of the circuit after more overnight rain. David Coulthard, from sixth on the grid, also tried to pass his fellow Briton, but decided to settle for a two-place gain heading into turn one.
Behind them, however, Sato speared across the circuit after appearing to run out of grip. Although the Japanese driver managed to save what could have been a terminal trip into the gravel trap, he was unlucky enough to collect - or be collected by - an equally errant Rubens Barrichello, who had followed a similar trajectory into the trap, clipping the front of the BAR with his left rear as he went. The result was a damaged nose for Sato and a puncture for Barrichello, who now had the entire lap to cover before he could effect repairs.
Montoya's off, however, at least allowed the two stragglers to make up lost ground as the safety car appeared to facilitate easier clearance of the now two-wheeled McLaren
and its associated debris. The controlled pace also allowed the field to bunch up, meaning that Raikkonen, who had been forced to lift in the confusion at the chicane, was also right back on the tail of eleventh-placed Felipe Massa, having already made up seven places. Schumacher Sr ran seventh, also up seven, while Alonso was right behind the Ferrari, having gained eight slots over his grid position.
The field was kept in check for a further six laps, but Ralf was still alert enough to anticipate the restart best of all, re-establishing his earlier cushion over the pursuing pack. Christian Klien
- who had been shuffled back at the initial start - was caught napping, however, as Schumacher passed the Red Bull
car for sixth into turn one , and Alonso further demoted the Austrian at the chicane as he tried to keep tabs on the Ferrari.