23 May 2004
Monaco 2004 - Trulli beats Button in street-fight.
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.
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.
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