Schumacher stayed in contact, no doubt his ire raised by the audacity and physical nature of the move, but found that he had no answer to the sheer power of the latest BMW V10. Only when Montoya made the slightest of mistakes was the world champion able to take a look past the Williams, but nothing ever presented itself.
The battle at the front gradually favoured Montoya as the race wore on, leading pit-lane pundits to predict that the Colombian was on the lighter fuel load. It was a surprise to may, therefore, when Schumacher became the first of the frontrunners to make a stop for fuel and tyres. In and out in a shade over nine seconds on lap 25, the German dropped to third behind Coulthard, handing a big advantage to Montoya who, it slowly became apparent, was only making one stop to the champion's two.
The advantage grew as the Colombian reeled off a string of fastest laps, punctuated only by the occasional interruption from his recovering team-mate, and Coulthard, in second, appeared to have no answer to the rapid Williams. It was a major shock, therefore, when the Scot's car suddenly appeared in front, with no sign of Montoya in pit-lane.
As the first drops of forecast rain began to fall on track - and flashes of lightning lit the distant Sao Paulo sky - Montoya had begun to carve his way, confidently through the midfield runners. Approaching the battle between Jos Verstappen and Giancarlo Fisichella for a position just outside the top ten, the Colombian would have been grateful to see both cars allow him safe passage on a tricky surface, but completely unprepared for the Dutchman - a hero to many at Sepang - pile into the back of him in much the same way as Barrichello had to Schumacher Jr some 37 laps earlier.
There was to be no way back for either man, as Verstappen's Arrows climbed up and over the spinning Williams before beaching itself in the gravel. Montoya's day was done as the rear end of his car was beyond momentum, let alone repair, and the race - and the season - had lost its first upset. Verstappen, for his part, looked decidedly guilt-ridden as he climbed over the tyre barrier, as if realising the impact of what he had done....
Not long after, Coulthard, who now held a 30+sec led over Schumacher made his one and only scheduled stop of the day, taking on fuel and tyres quickly enough to emerge from the winding Interlagos pit-lane in front of the rapidly advancing German. The Ferrari had the momentum, and the warmer tyres, but Coulthard just hung on over the critical first lap, and retained his lead as the race moved deeper into its second half.
In their wake, the leaders could count Trulli and Frentzen - quietly going about their business for Jordan - Olivier Panis - on a charge for BAR - and Fisichella in the top six, although the Benetton man was something of a wild card, having yet to make his first stop, Just outside the points, both Saubers lurked menacingly, Nick Heidfeld ahead of Kimi Raikkonen despite a slow stop when his fuel hose jammed and almost pulled its handler down pit-lane as the German got the signal to rejoin. Early frontrunner Jacques Villeneuve had dropped away from the reckoning after a fast start when he picked up a puncture on lap twelve, while Eddie Irvine lost a top ten spot when he was handed a stop-go penalty for receiving attention on the grid after the allowed time.
The race appeared now to be in Coulthard's pocket, despite Schumacher's persistent attention, as the German still had to make another stop. For once, it looked as though the Ferrari strategy would not pay off - until the rain decided to arrive in earnest.
Within minutes, the track was awash and, as in Malaysia, cars began to depart the stage at regular intervals. Incredibly, Coulthard's McLaren team declined to call their man in at the earliest opportunity, allowing Schumacher to steal a march on him as the MP4-16 slithered around one more lap. This time, it was no surprise to see Schumacher overhaul the McLaren as it approached the end of pit-lane, despite Coulthard being stationery for just 5.9secs to take on tyres, as opposed to the German's need for fuel as well.
Schumacher took the lead in conditions now ideally suited to Formula One's modern regenmeister
, but Coulthard was not done and, contrary to expectation, began to close in on the Ferrari with both cars on intermediates. The Scot's cause was helped by an uncharacteristic spin by the world champion as the F2001 put a wheel on the painted kerbs, but it took a special move to put the McLaren back in front.