Jarno Trulli put his heart and nerves on the line as he finally broke a victory duck that had last for 116 grands prix, overcoming Jenson Button in a fraught and thrilling Monaco Grand Prix by the scant margin of 0.4 seconds.

The Italian, criticised by many for being a better qualifier than racer, held on as his British rival closed in over the final few laps, both men taking full advantage of an incident-packed event that saw three accidents and the end of Michael Schumacher's dream of another F1 record.

Trulli and Button had annexed the front row of the most crucial grid during Saturday's qualifying session, but it was the Italian's team-mate, Fernando Alonso, who slotted into second spot at the start of the race. Button admitted to making a slow getaway, but managed to hold on to third place despite a couple of flying starts from rows three and four.

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The initial start had been aborted when 1996 race winner Olivier Panis stalled his Toyota, but the delay did little to faze either Trulli or Alonso, who both hooked up the Renault's celebrated starting power to grab a 1-2 advantage heading into Ste Devote. Further back, Kimi Raikkonen made the best of an odd-numbered starting slot to move ahead of Schumacher, but it was Takuma Sato who created the biggest stir off the line, barrelling between McLaren and Ferrari to claim fourth at the first corner.

Surprisingly, given the jostling that had gone on on approach, the entire field managed to navigate Ste Devote without serious incident, only Zsolt Baumgartner being delayed. Mirabeau was another matter, however, as rookie Christian Klien undid all his hard work by knocking his front wing off on one of the Jordans and being taken for a toboggan ride into the barriers at Loews.

That incident, however, was minor compared to what occurred just two tours later.

Sato's BAR-Honda had been smoking lightly throughout the first couple of laps, but let go massively as the field headed into Tabac for the third time. Those immediately behind, principally Raikkonen and the two Ferraris somehow managed to get through the smokescreen unscathed, but others were not so fortunate. David Coulthard approached the obstacle with caution, catching out the following Giancarlo Fisichella, whose Sauber tipped up and over as it made contact with the rear of the McLaren, leaving the Italian wedged head-first against the barriers.

Remarkably, no-one else became embroiled in the mess, and Fisichella was able to extricate himself without injury but, as Coulthard admitted later, it was lucky that there wasn't a more serious outcome.

The safety car was deployed to expedite the clean-up process, and a couple of drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher, took advantage of its appearance to pit for a change of strategy. When it withdrew, the leading trio held position and quickly began to re-establish the gap they had previously enjoyed over their pursuers. Juan Montoya, meanwhile, dived to the inside of Rubens Barrichello at Ste Devote moving up to sixth in the process.

With the three quickest men from qualifying pulling away at the front, attention switched to unbeaten championship leader Schumacher, who was powerless to do much as he was still stuck behind Raikkonen's McLaren. The German was actually dropping away from the silver car as his Bridgestones worked their way back to optimum temperature but, once they came in, was able to extend the gap back to Montoya's Williams.

As Trulli used the clear road ahead of him to set a string of fastest laps, Montoya surprised many by becoming the first man to pit for a scheduled top-up and tyre change at the end of lap 13. Button and Raikkonen followed suit a handful of laps later, giving Schumacher a clear road of the sort he exploited at Imola and Barcelona, and the German did not waste the opportunity to make inroads on the leaders.

As Trulli and Alonso began to encounter the backmarkers, so the Ferrari ate into their advantage. Schumacher rattled off the fastest laps of the race as he sensed a chance of putting his six-win start to the season back on track, and had closed the gap sufficiently to assume the lead when the blue-and-yellow pair made their pit-stops.

With just another tour to complete before his own stop, however, Schumacher had little chance of opening out a margin of his own, but slotted back into third place as the phase unwound, taking full advantage of Button being held up by Cristiano da Matta as he attempted to make the most of his new tyres. Raikkonen, meanwhile, had been despatched simply by the pace of the world champion before he made his stop.

Trulli and Alonso had returned to 1-2 formation, with the Italian enjoying a seven-second gap back to the Ferrari, as the rest of the already depleted field strung itself out. The only battle of note was between Nick Heidfeld and Montoya, who was finding it difficult to recover from his early stop, while Felipe Massa kept a watching bring from the final point-scoring position.

Joining Fisichella, Coulthard and Klien on the sidelines, Mark Webber completed a bad day for Jaguar - and its Hollywood supporters - by grinding to a halt on the road to Rascasse, while Giorgio Pantano parked the second Jordan in pit-lane with its rear-end smoking. Gianmaria Bruni followed his fellow countryman inside a couple of laps, leaving just 13 cars running at one-third distance, and a dozen when Raikkonen was told to park up by a concerned McLaren team.

Heidfeld was eventually muscled aside on the run to Loews, but would prove unusually obstructive throughout the event, beginning when the two Renaults homed in to put the Jordan a lap down. Both Trulli and Alonso were held up for more than a moment, allowing Schumacher to hack into the gap, while Button also benefited when the Jordan ducked into the pits for fuel and tyres, saving the Briton, who was back on the same pace as the leaders having cleared da Matta, from having to find a way past.

Ralf Schumacher was already a lap down at this stage, the German clearly nursing his car at every opportunity, but would play a significant part in an incident that would shape the rest of the race.

Passed by Trulli to go two laps down, the Williams driver appeared unwilling to let Alonso through as easily. The Spaniard caught Schumacher as the pair entered the tunnel, but had to go off-line to make the pass. Schumacher showed no sign of lifting to make the move more simple and Alonso, found himself running wider and wider, eventually making contact with the barriers before rattling down the hill towards the chicane.

With debris littering the road both under cover and in the bright sunshine that graced the event, the safety car made its second appearance of the afternoon, adding to the intrigue as while Trulli, Alonso and the chasing Button all used the paced period to make their second and final stops. Strangely, Michael Schumacher opted not to follow suit, assuming the lead as his rivals pitted.

That left the German in prime position behind the safety car and, getting word of its impending departure, began the ritual of warming brakes and tyres. His choice of location proved a puzzle, however, and, locking up his front left wheel in the tunnel, the world champion was collected by the following Montoya. The impact turned the Ferrari right and then left, wiping off its front end against the barriers and leaving Schumacher to limp back to the pits, a far from happy man.

The safety car period had allowed the remaining Ferrari of Barrichello to close in on the leaders, but the Brazilian - 32 on race day - seemed curiously off his game, and never really posed a threat as he still had to make his second stop of the afternoon. At the restart, Trulli enjoyed a six-second gap over Button, promoted to second by the various incidents, with only Barrichello remaining on the lead lap as Williams struggled with its FW26.

The departures of Schumacher and Alonso had also allowed the likes of Felipe Massa, da Matta and Heidfeld to slot into the points between the two white-and-blue cars, with Olivier Panis - who had started from pit-lane - and Zsolt Baumgartner rounding out the remaining runners. The Frenchman was then promoted to the top eight when the second Schumacher exited the race - in more sedate fashion to his brother as he parked his smoking BMW-powered car in the garage - leaving Baumgartner staring at a possible points finish despite being three laps adrift of the lead.

While there was no more contact between cars in the closing stages, the race was anything but dull as it drew towards its slightly-shortened 77-lap distance. Trulli's lead was coming down inexorably, as Button pressed on, the BAR clearly quicker than its Renault rival at all points.

While Montoya acted cordially for both leaders, Heidfeld was less helpful, holding Trulli up through the Mirabeau-Loews-Portier complex and allowing Button to close further still. From close to seven seconds, the Briton was now within a three-second spitting distance and lapping half a second quicker than the leader.

With three laps to go the margin was under a second as Button attempted to pressure the sometimes fragile Trulli into an error. The Italian, however, was holding firm in both heart and mind and, even when Button appeared under his rear wing, refused to cede. He made short work of Baumgartner on the final tour, leaving Button to deal with the Minardi though the tunnel, but the Briton was unable to make his move at the ideal time and dropped away again.

Still, he refused to give up and, through the Swimming Pool and Rascasse sections, closed back in. Trulli, however, held the crucial Monaco advantage, crossing the line a whisper ahead of his rival to claim his first F1 win and the first for an Italian in Monaco for more than 20 years.

Race result:

1. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault 77 laps 1hr 45min 46.601secs
2. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +0.497secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +75.766secs
4. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +1 lap
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
6. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
7. Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford +2 laps
8. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +2 laps

9. Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth +3 laps

Rtd Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW 69 laps completed
Rtd Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 45 laps completed
Rtd Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault 41 laps completed
Rtd Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 27 laps completed
Rtd Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth 15 laps completed
Rtd Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford 12 laps completed
Rtd Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth 11 laps completed
Rtd Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda 2 laps completed
Rtd Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas 2 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 2 laps completed
Rtd Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth 0 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 14.439secs lap 23