David Coulthard gave himself and McLaren-Mercedes a welcome shot in the arm by leading the Monaco Grand Prix from start to finish and breaking the run of success established by Michael Schumacher.
Despite starting on the unfancied outside of the grid, Coulthard made a demon start to out-run polesitter Juan Montoya to Ste Devote. The Colombian later complained about his launch control, claiming it had not worked perfectly, but it was still a great getaway from Coulthard who, it would transpired, was fuelled for distance.
The field managed to negotiate the opening corner, although Jacques Villeneuve had to be pushed off the grid and restarted in pit-lane before resuming after the field had gone by. The pack also managed to get around Grand in tact, but Coulthard was already easing away from the chasing group, headed by Montoya, but with both Schumacher brothers in close attendance. Michael had held his third position through the first few corners, while Ralf slotted into fourth ahead of Jarno Trulli.
The Italian made full use of Renault's renowned launch software to leap-frog Kimi Raikkonen who, in turn, got away in front of the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello. The two Toyotas and Heinz-Harald Frentzen completed the top ten, as Jenson Button dropped right back to 17th. In contrast to his team-mate, the young Briton lurched, stopped and pulled to one side while he re-fired the R202. To make matters worse, he was then assessed a drive-thru penalty for allegedly jumping the start, meaning that he was 20th by the end of lap five.
Three laps later, Coulthard's advantage - which had hovered at a full second from lap one - disappeared completely, as the trip behind him closed up approaching Mirabeau. Fastest laps from both Schumachers ensured that Montoya also had no breathing space, but both the front two held firm until lap 14, when DC again began to pull away.
Not long afterwards, fellow Scot Allan McNish became the first retirement, clipping the inside kerb at Ste Devote while tailing team-mate Mika Salo and burying the front of his TF102 into the outside tyre wall. The safety car was readied by not used, which no doubt gave Coulthard cause for relief as he continued to hold sway over the field.
With the exception of Montoya, the rest of the top four swapped fastest laps as the gaps between them remained static, leaving the crowd transfixed but forced to look further afield for overtaking attempts. Frentzen was among those on the move, taking advantage of a slowed Salo on lap 19 to move into eighth, while both Jordans also closed in on the Toyota man.
Villeneuve's problems saw him lapped as early as the 20th tour, and the Canadian offered no undue resistance to the leaders as they filed past him, but the front four were soon to face another peril at the same spot close to the chicane.
The progress being made by both Jordan drivers soon saw them on the tail of Salo's ailing Toyota, and it was Takuma Sato who was first to dive past the Finn at Mirabeau. Salo offered little resistance to team-mate Fisichella and the two yellow cars continued to lap in close proximity for another couple of laps before Sato, following team orders, attempted to make room for his quicker team-mate.