Already gone by this point were Heinz-Harald Frentzen, out with a mechanical failure after just six laps, and the ever-unlucky Jacques Villeneuve, who had risen as high as ninth before pulling out with cooked brakes, his Montreal jinx intact. They would soon be joined by both Jordans, who retired simultaneously with equally smoky EJ13s.
The shake-up created by the pit-stops not only reversed the order of the two Schumachers, but also allowed the surprising Alonso to lead. The Spaniard had come to Canada knowing that his Renault would not necessarily be a force, but showed just how impressive his fourth place qualifying lap had been by stretching his fuel load over 26 laps, five more even than the world champion.
The stop dropped the Spaniard back to fourth place, where he had been since being re-passed by Montoya in the early stages, but kept him well ahead of the growing battle for fifth involving the recovering Barrichello, the charging Raikkonen and the second McLaren of David Coulthard. Behind them, Mark Webber was running in the points with both Toyotas.
The gap between the new leader and Montoya in third had grown to 13secs by this stage, making the Colombian's error look increasingly costly, but the two frontrunners were seldom more than a second apart, although Ralf was never close enough on the road to make a lunge. Any interference from Raikkonen, however, disappeared on lap 35, when another Michelin carcass went spinning across the road, narrowly avoiding Barrichello's pursuing Ferrari and sending the Finn pit-bound earlier than his strategy had determined. Raikkonen rejoined back in tenth, with work ahead of him if he was to restrict Schumacher's likely points gain.
Behind the leading quartet, there continued to be problems for those chasing the minor points. Following Raikkonen's puncture, Barrichello finally lost a bargeboard that had been hanging precariously since his nose job, while Coulthard appeared to be slowing out on the track, sufficiently for Webber to close in and pass the Scot for fifth on lap 44. DC's race would not last much longer, as he was instructed to bring the ailing MP4-17D in for the last time, another victim of an increasing number of gearbox-related problems.
The arrival of the final round of pit-stops presented Ralf with his best chance of re-passing his brother and, again, the younger German opted to change just his rear tyres, just as he had first time around. However, catching and passing 'backmarkers' - including Raikkonen - at just the wrong place allowed the Ferrari to open out a valuable gap - enough to keep it ahead as it exited the pit-lane.
The closing stages were enlivened not just by Ralf's final attempts to overhaul his brother, but also by the pace of the two men immediately astern of them. Montoya's speed showed that, given the chance, it could have been him heading the field, while Alonso had again led the field during the pit calls and inexorably closed on Montoya - and thus the leading duo - as the clocked ticked down. By the final few laps, the quartet were running almost nose-to-tail, giving the crowd the anticipation of a last ditch move, but it was not to be as the world champion moved, not only into the points lead, but also within one mark of a thousand in his career and one win of a half century.
The Williams drivers both gained ground in the championship, while Alonso regained third overall, as Raikkonen could do no better than a subdued sixth, slowed in the final stages as he attempted to safeguard his brakes and gearbox. Between them, Barrichello came home fifth to help extend Ferrari's constructors' championship advantage, while Webber secured another couple of points after a solid, if unspectacular drive.
The final point went, perhaps deservedly, to the frequently unlucky Olivier Panis, and the irony of the situation would not have been lost on the Frenchman as it took a retirement for Toyota team-mate Cristiano da Matta to give him the place.
It would have taken one more retirement, however, for the weekend's fairytale story to occur, and the thought of Paul Stoddart sticking pins in a replica of Raikkonen's McLaren would have brought a smile to all who value the role of the minnows in Formula One. After a heated press conference on Friday, and news of Bernie Ecclestone's new involvement in Minardi, a point for Jos Verstappen would have raptly rounded out the weekend.
1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 70 laps 1hr 31min 13.591secs
2. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +00.784secs
3. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +01.355secs
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +04.481secs
5. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +1min 04.261secs
6. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +1min 10.502secs
7. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
8. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
9. Jos Verstappen Holland Minardi-Cosworth +2 laps
10. Antonio Pizzonia Brazil Jaguar-Cosworth +4 laps
Rtd Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota 64 laps completed
Rtd Justin Wilson Britain Minardi-Cosworth 60 laps completed
Rtd Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda 51 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 47 laps completed
Rtd Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas 47 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 22 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Jordan-Ford 20 laps completed
Rtd Ralph Firman Britain Jordan-Ford 20 laps completed
Rtd Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda 14 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Sauber-Petronas 6 laps completed
Fernando Alonso Renault-Renault 1min 16.040secs lap 49