Rubens Barrichello was robbed of a certain victory in the Austrian Grand Prix by the contract extension that gave him so much motivation over the rest of the weekend.
Knowing that the further two years he has secured with the Scuderia could be lost should he not comply with team orders, the Brazilian conceded a four-second advantage in the space of three laps to allow his team leader to take his fifth win in six races and open out a 27-point gap to Juan Montoya.
It was the Colombian's sudden presence in third spot that probably prompted Ferrari's decision to switch its two cars, as Schumacher insisted afterwards that he had no idea that tactics were in the offing until he had the call from Ross Brawn on the pit-wall telling him the Barrichello would slow. Montoya had trailed the German's younger brother Ralf for much of the race, as Williams opted to follow the lengthy opening stint pioneered by McLaren in winning last year. Opting not to take tyres allowed the Colombian to sneak out ahead of the sister FW24 and, despite pressure from behind, Montoya was able to hold on for a second successive podium.
The opening lap suggested that Williams and BMW would be hard pressed to take a podium finish, as Nick Heidfeld sprinted through from row three to follow the two Ferraris into turn one. Slowed by their heavy fuel loads, neither Schumacher Jr, starting from second, or Montoya, fourth, could do anything to prevent themselves from slipping down the order, but both were able to make it around the corner safely.
Indeed, contrary to expectation, almost the entire field made it round Castrol unscathed, although Felipe Massa's youthful exuberance cost him a lot of places as he ran wide while trying to follow his team-mate through the order. Pedro de la Rosa, too, was caught out, and cruised the rest of the lap back to the pits, where his Jaguar was retired. The Spaniard has completed just three laps in the last two events.
Instead of Castrol, however, the real skirmishes did not break out until Remus, the second tight corner, where Jacques Villeneuve appeared to touch Enrique Bernoldi's Arrows as he came barrelling down the inside. The brush put the Canadian further off line, and he duly collected the sister A23 of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, spinning the luckless German into the dirt, from where he made a slow escape. Bernoldi lasted but two more laps before calling it a day with a damaged front wing and fractured brake pipe.
Heidfeld then copied his countryman's dust route when the field returned to Castrol for a second time, giving both Williams drivers a break as he dropped to fifth, just ahead of the leading McLaren of David Coulthard. The Scot had managed to get ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen on the run to the first corner, but was having to defend furiously as the Finn fought back. It would be a brief scrap, however, as Raikkonen's car slowed, then expired in a familiar cloud of white smoke as he exited Castrol on lap six.
Villeneuve was the man on the move in the early stages, clearly running a light fuel load in order to make rapid progress from his lowly 17th grid slot. Once clear of Jarno Trulli and team-mate Olivier Panis, who was caught up in the early melee, the Canadian quickly disposed of Allan McNish, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jenson Button and Mika Salo to lie on the fringe of the points by lap 18. Villeneuve's path was eased by the retirement of Massa's Sauber with suspension failure - something that was to have more serious echoes later in the race - but was largely down to some energetic driving from the Canadian that brought back memories of his early days in F1.
By this stage, Barrichello enjoyed a full second in hand over Schumacher Sr, with both already lapping regularly under the old lap record. Schumacher started the ball rolling on lap eight and, six laps later, the times were down into the 1min 09secs bracket. Alex Yoong became the first man to be lapped, as early as the 14th tour, as the leaders ran some five seconds faster than the Malaysian's Minardi.