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.
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.