Formula One's resident rainmeister
came close to pouring cold water on what had been a red-hot world championship battle at Indianapolis, romping to a sixth victory of the year and only being kept in title check by an equally bravura performance from Kimi Raikkonen.
Before the event, all the talk had been about whether Schumacher could overcome a disappointing qualifying session - which had left him seventh on the grid - and limit the potential damage that could have been caused to his hopes of a sixth world crown by, primarily Juan Montoya. In the end, however, the German was able to call on the help of his extra team-mates in the heavens, turning the race on its head and taking him to within a solitary point of erasing Juan Manuel Fangio's name from another page in the record books.
The first shower swept through Indianapolis as the pomp of a traditional US pre-race build-up got into full swing. By the time that the cars were unleashed on their warming-up lap, however, the track was dry once again - setting the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. The weather would prove critical, with the arrival of rain - and the severity of the storms - having the potential to wreck the respective strategies and hopes of the various Michelin and Bridgestone runners.
In one case, however, hopes were dashed even before the first precipitation of the race arrived....
Starting from fourth on the grid, Montoya found himself swamped as the lights went out and, with Rubens Barrichello directly ahead of him also making a tardy getaway, the Colombian found himself losing vital places to Schumacher and Raikkonen. The Finn, on the other, hand, made a cracking start, and led comfortably into the first corner, before pulling away from the pack, which now found itself bottled up behind third place starter Olivier Panis.
Surprisingly, the entire 20-car field made it through the opening sequence of corners unscathed, but Ralph Firman then blotted its copybook by running hard into the back of Jos Verstappen and breaking the nose of his Jordan. The Briton was thus the first pit caller of the afternoon, but it would not be long before the rest of the field was pondering a similar move.
The spots of rain had just begun to appear on visors when Montoya's afternoon went awry. Determined to make up places as quickly as possible lest Schumacher get away from him, the Colombian attempted to make an audacious pass on the second Ferrari of Barrichello going into turn two. Already up on the kerbs before he had to turn in, Montoya found himself squeezed by the Brazilian, but it was the Ferrari driver who came off worst, being sent spinning into the gravel, where he remained beached.
The incident cost Montoya a couple of places as he attempted to lose the new nose ornament he temporarily picked up, but things were about to get worse for the Williams driver.
That first shower was brief, but had the effect of shuffling the order as Panis opted to stop for wet weather rubber. The Frenchman had already been passed by Ralf Schumacher, who acted as hare for Montoya in the early pursuit of Raikkonen, and was under heavy pressure from the world champion, too, before deciding that he lacked the grip to fight for places. With the saturation level rising, however, the Renaults moved further apart, with Fernando Alonso getting the better of David Coulthard, and Jarno Trulli losing out to the recovering Montoya, although it was apparent that the Colombian's straight-line speed - effected by a skinny wing on his FW25 - was being blunted by the damp track.
The in-between conditions appeared to be affecting the Bridgestone runners more than their Michelin cousins, however, and Coulthard soon proved the point by sweeping past both Alonso and Michael Schumacher in one move heading onto the main straight. Montoya attempted to follow the Scot through, flying past Schumacher as though the Ferrari was standing still. It was at this moment, however, that the stewards decided to announce that they were investigating the Colombian for his part in Barrichello's demise.