Jenson Button's dreams of a first Formula One victory in the San Marino Grand Prix were crushed beneath the wheels of the relentless Ferrari steamroller, as Michael Schumacher drove imperiously to his 74th career win.
The German was initially content to play second fiddle to the man who has become his biggest challenger this season but, as soon as Button pitted for the first time, he turned up the wick and effectively put the result beyond doubt.
Button made a good getaway from his maiden career pole, while the world champion suffered from being on the 'wrong' side of a grid that, like the rest of the circuit, had been reduced in grip by an overnight thunderstorm. While Schumacher then had to fend off the attentions of those behind him, the BAR was able to sprint into a clear lead.
Schumacher could have dropped to third in the opening few corners, but benefited from the fact that Juan Montoya made a poor start from the inside of row two and was not quite close enough to use his momentum to pass the Ferrari into Tamburello. The pair were still dicing by Tosa, where Montoya attempted to go around the outside, only to find himself eased onto the grass as Schumacher took his rightful line.
While the incident finally freed the world champion from the melee, Montoya's attempts to recover caused Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher to take the grass on the left-hand side of the rise to Piratella. The snaking FW26 eventually regained the racing surface, but had dropped into the clutches of a group that would keep him company for much of the ensuing 61 laps.
The list of potential rivals was already reduced by one after David Coulthard continued McLaren's miserable start to the season by losing his front wing at Tamburello. The Scot had made a good start from eleventh on the grid, but was caught out by the rate at which the leading group braked and clipped the back of Jarno Trulli's Renault as he tried to take avoiding action. The necessary pit-stop dropped the McLaren to the back of the field, where it was only slightly behind the similar car of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn had also made a good start from the very back of the grid, but quickly found himself bottled up by the Saubers, Jaguars and Toyotas.
With Montoya shaken from his tail, Schumacher was able to begin his pursuit of Button, who had opened out nigh on three seconds over the pack by the end of the first lap. Relentlessly, the gap begin to shrink as Schumacher used his Bridgestones to full effect in the opening laps, eventually settling to just within a second of the BAR as the first round of pit-stops approached.
Not around to make a change of tyres, Giorgio Pantano had already departed his home event after running into the gravel trap on lap six with a hydraulic problem, but the Italian would be the only retirement until the second half of the event.
When the pit-stops started in earnest, Button ducked in two laps before his main pursuer, and Schumacher then took control of the event. With a clear road ahead of him, the German began banging in laps that would have been too god for most of his rivals in qualifying, eventually securing enough of a gap to ensure that he emerged from his own stop at the head of the field.