It was just as well there were another 18 cars in the Bahrain Grand Prix - or 17 once Kimi Raikkonen made his now customary exit - as the two Ferraris controlled the race from the front to take a second 1-2 result of the year.

With the hot temperatures expected at Sakhir being muted by early morning rain, wind and sandstorms, the race appeared to be back in the melting pot as far as the tyre war was concerned, and Ferrari made the most of the equality by romping to a comfortable win with world champion Michael Schumacher. The German has now won each of the opening three races of the season and, if history is anything to go by, already set himself up for a record seventh crown.

Despite some doubt over just how much grip was still in the track after the rains, the two Ferraris made no mistake away from the start, although both locked their brakes into the tight turn one, with Barrichello later admitting that he thought it was a bit too close for comfort. The Brazilian had not had the poor getaway predicted by Juan Montoya, who had explained during Saturday's press conference that he was happy to be starting from third spot on the 'clean' side of the track, and fended off the Williams-BMW driver's attentions before settling in behind his team leader.

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Behind Montoya, Jarno Trulli again made full use of Renault's superior starting technique to secure sixth place ahead of Jenson Button, while the Briton's team-mate, Takuma Sato, made a lightning getaway to see off Ralf Schumacher for fourth. Further back, Olivier Panis got a good start for Toyota, with Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen all making immediate gains from their relatively lowly grid positions.

The opening few laps effectively set the tone for the rest of the race, as Schumacher Sr edged away from Barrichello, and the Brazilian from the chasing pack, who indulged in various frenetic scraps over the following 57 laps.

The first of these involved Raikkonen, who had had to start from the back row after an engine problem on Friday cost him a penalty, and rookie Christian Klien, who compounded a strong weekend in which he had the upper hand on Jaguar team-mate Webber by harassing the man many had tipped to be fighting for the title. On more than one occasion, the young Austrian closed up on the back of the McLaren before darting out of the slipstream and looking to pass. Twice he managed to nose in front of Raikkonen, only to run wide as he out-braked himself on the dusty surface, allowing the Finn back through.

It was not long before Jaguar was ahead of McLaren, however, but the gain owed as much to Raikkonen's run of wretched luck as it did, on that occasion, to an incisive move from the F3 Euroseries runner-up. Still defending from his young adversary, Raikkonen modulated his speed for one of the Bahrain circuit's tricky corners, only to find his Mercedes V10 lunching itself in spectacular fashion. Klien was already through before the unit's demise took full effect - thankfully sparing himself a visor full of flame - as Raikkonen posted the first retirement of the afternoon for the second race in three.

At the same time as the Raikkonen-Klien battle was raging, so too was another ahead of them between Sato and Schumacher Jr. The Williams appeared to have the edge on the BAR, but Sato was not about to yield willingly and, after going wheel-to-wheel with Schumacher through turn one, found himself being squeezed by the German at two, with the resulting contact lifting the Williams into the air. Personally unscathed and back on terra firma, Schumacher then proceeded slowly back to the pits for a precautionary suspension check, before being sent on his way again.

No sooner had one Schumacher left the pit-lane, than the other was on his way in to begin the first round of scheduled stops. This, and the other two times he was due to stop, would be the only time that the world champion would cede the lead of the race and, on each occasion, it was team-mate Barrichello who took up the reins. The first round of stops came at a point where the field was still relatively closely matched - Schumacher was only around eight seconds ahead of Montoya - so the Colombian and Sato both enjoyed a turn at the front before normal service was resumed.

Once the dust had settled after the stops, the order looked much as it had before they began, with Button - despite a glitch with his rear jack - taking advantage of Schumacher Jr's pirouette to move into sixth, and Nick Heidfeld to run a brief seventh before making a very late call for fuel. David Coulthard and Mark Webber pitted together and tried to leave together, with the Scot just getting the better of a wheel-to-wheel break for freedom. The pair lined up immediately astern of Heidfeld's otherwise tardy Jordan.

Webber's team-mate was still providing much of the excitement, challenging Felipe Massa's Sauber for twelfth on numerous occasions, before forcing the Brazilian into an error. Klien then became a victim of his own success, spinning into the copious gravel traps after putting slightly too much wheel on a kerb, but was able to rejoin, slightly chastened and back down the order.

The track surface continued to catch out the over-confident or unwary, as Sato, now under increasing pressure from team-mate Button, was the next to find out. The Japanese driver, who had been the epitome of tidiness all weekend, erred by putting a wheel onto the kerb approaching one of the infield turns, and the contact was enough to slow the BAR, damage its front wing and allow Button, carrying more momentum, to go through. To make matters worse for Sato, the wing began dragging on the ground, showering sparks and requiring another pit-stop for repairs. The incident probably cost the BAR man a maiden podium...

Two other drivers who had had to make unscheduled stops - Alonso and Schumacher Jr - were already beginning their comebacks, and carved past Massa in similar fashion to Klien, once the Sauber driver had been forced into running wide. Alonso had damaged his front wing during his aggressive getaway from the rear of the grid, but was now powering his way back to wards the top eight, with Schumacher in tow.

The pair were only split at the second round of stops, when Schumacher managed to collect a couple of his crew trying to exit early. Although the team members were uninjured the moment's hesitation was enough to give Alonso vital breathing space.

At the sharp end, the elder Schumacher yielded his lead only briefly to Ferrari colleague Barrichello and, despite coming closer to Jarno Trulli on exiting than he would have liked, carried on his merry way towards another victory. Trulli, for his part, was being closed down by Jenson Button, but the Briton lost the chance to capitalise on the Italian's brush when his pit-stop again took longer than the BAR team would have liked.

With the two scarlet F2004s easing away at the head of the field, attention again switched to the action within, and the new Bahrain track lived up to its billing as a venue that promoted overtaking, even with the dust and sand that accompanied its international debut.

Jaguar was again in the thick of the action, this time with Webber frantically trying to defend eighth place from the advancing Alonso. The defence, at times, was a little blunt, causing the Spaniard to show his frustration and annoyance at a couple of his opponent's moves, before finally getting through at turn one when Webber out-braked himself. Further back, the Renault driver's previous combatant was also in the wars again, this time gently tipping Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber into a spin that prompted - ultimately unfounded - fears about his front wing.

Memories of the German's early skirmish were brought firmly to mind when Sato reprised Schumacher's role when closing on Coulthard. Instead of pinching the Scot into turn two, the BAR sensibly allowed it just enough breathing room, before nipping around the outside on exit to claim sixth. This signalled the beginning of the end for Coulthard and McLaren as, shortly after the third and final round of stops, the Scot caught the team unawares with a fourth pit-call and, having been sent on his way, duly retired at the end of the pit-lane. Not a good day for Woking...

It was also about the time that Sato's team-mate began his push for a second successive podium. Having been thwarted in two previous attempts, the third round of stops finally saw Button gain a place, passing Trulli courtesy of a good in-lap and the Italian's misfortune in catching both Jordans at just the wrong time. Now into fourth, the Briton again began reeling in Montoya - as he and Trulli had both been doing prior to the stops - only, now, the gap began to tumble alarmingly for the Williams' team.

What had been around eight seconds quickly wilted to three, before Button appeared under the rear wing of what was clearly a sick-sounding FW26. Montoya was also complaining of trouble under braking, and it was not long before his predecessor - and possible successor - in the Williams team was through and away.

Montoya's demise did not end there, however, as, first Trulli, then a wave of cars, including Sato, Alonso and team-mate Schumacher all took advantage of his misfortune. By the last lap, the Colombian had also fallen into the clutches of Webber's Jaguar, and was powerless to prevent the Australian from taking the final scoring position. The Williams driver eventually finished a lowly 13th, parked up against the pit-wall and headed for home.

At the front, Schumacher had begun to ease his pace with a many as ten laps remaining and this eventually allowed the Scuderia to set up a formation finish to cap a dominant performance. Barrichello, his brake pedal again going long and the flanks of his car coated in black carbon dust, was just 1.3secs behind the world champion at the flag and 25 ahead of Button.

The sands of time are running out if any of the other nine teams are to make a credible challenge for either world title.....

Race result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 57 laps 1hr 28min 34.875secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +1.300secs
3. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +26.600secs
4. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +32.200secs
5. Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda +52.400sec
6. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +53.100secs
7. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +58.100secs
8. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap

9. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
10. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
11. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
12. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
13. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +1 lap
14. Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford +1 lap
16. Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford +2 laps
17. Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth +5 lap

Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 50 laps completed
Rtd Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth 44 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 7 laps completed