Montoya, driving one of the cars with which the German was dicing, was, like the world champion, thought to have been on a one-stop strategy, such was his pace at the tail-end of the top six, but the Colombian scotched that theory with a pit-stop on lap 27. Remarkably, this was Montoya's first F1 stop, having not made it this far in the previous three events, and emphasised the true manner of his team-mate's pace at the front of the field, which led to a new lap record on the 26th tour.
Schumacher and Coulthard made their stops in short order after Montoya, both emerging from the pit-lane with their original positions intact. Lower down the order, McLaren managed to turn Hakkinen around in time to put him back ahead of Trulli, who had become something of a rolling roadblock for the Finn, while Ferrari waited to pull off perhaps the tactical move of the race, short-fuelling Barrichello in order to put him ahead of Hakkinen, but necessitating a switch from one to two stops for the Brazilian.
By this stage, the lower order had already seen several changes, with Fernando Alonso starting the ball rolling on only the sixth lap when an over-exuberant entry to Variante Alta saw the Minardi driver spearing off into the barriers on exit. Jos Verstappen wasted no time in joining the Spaniard on the sidelines, as his Arrows ground to a halt on the very next lap, while Kimi Raikkonen became the third casualty, the victim of an unexplained failure that pitched him into the wall on the hill to Piratella. Like Alonso, the Finn was unharmed in the impact, but no longer a part of a thrilling scrap for potential points with Panis.
Benetton's day had already been ruined, despite a flying start from Fisichella, which vaulted him ahead of Bernoldi and Verstappen. Team-mate Button made two pit-stops on successive laps as the team struggled with the refuelling equipment, and the Italian's good early work was undone as his B201 continued to be less than user-friendly. Fisichella would eventually retire back in the pits, while Button soldiered on to a lonely twelfth place finish.
Jacques Villeneuve never got to grips with either his BAR or team-mate Olivier Panis, and eventually succumbed to a big engine failure on lap 31, his displeasure evident as he thumped the steering wheel in frustration. Two laps earlier, the race had lost Gaston Mazzacane in smoky fashion, and would later do the same with Eddie Irvine.
The biggest disappointment to neutrals, however, was the demise of Juan Montoya, who found a box of the same just when he need gears and clutch the most. The Colombian was holding down a solid fifth place, with Hakkinen in his sights, when he was first alerted to a possible problem and, with delicious irony, this then manifested itself as he came in to make his second F1 pit-stop.
Wheels on and fuel in - albeit with a delay to the latter - Montoya went to restart but, with no drive, stalled on his marks. Attempts to restart the FW23 resulted in little, until the crew physically dropped a wheel-spinning Colombian off the jacks and down pit-road after an interminable one minute and eight seconds.. That was not the end of the problem, however, and Montoya could only limp back to the pits and another premature exit.
Throughout the middle section of the race, his team-mate held a comfortable ten-second advantage over second-placed Coulthard but, with the second round of stops approaching, the Scot began to nibble away at the gap. Knowing that his best chance of overhauling the powerful BMW-powered Williams was to out-fumble him in the pits, Coulthard put in successively quick laps on the countdown to his stop, but Schumacher responded, between bouts of traffic, to stabilise the margin.
Ultimately, Coulthard's ploy failed to pay off, as both drivers again exited the pits in the positions they had entered them, and the run to the final flag would only see McLaren edge closer to Williams. Despite having to dodge through the lower reaches of the top ten, Schumacher showed commendable composure and, even when the team showed him an 'oil pump' board, he reacted accordingly to ensure his success.
Swooping close to the pit-wall, the German showed his undoubted pleasure to representatives of Williams, BMW and Michelin, who had all waited a long time for the winning feeling to return. Coulthard was just four seconds adrift at this point, but no threat to the victor.