Raikkonen's pace had not helped any of those hoping to chase Schumacher Sr at the start of the race, though, and Barrichello was hardly ahead of the German by the time he made his first stop, on lap 14. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was already on his way back to the paddock, the victim of yet another engine failure...
Barrichello's stop dropped him not only behind Schumacher, but also into Sato's wake, setting up the main focus of attention for the afternoon. The Japanese driver was clearly running three stops to Barrichello's two, and the question remained whether he could pull out enough of a gap either side of his second call for fuel and tyres to emerge ahead of the Ferrari on the run to the flag.
Team-mate Button, meanwhile, had managed to use his pit-stop to get ahead of the two Renaults - which endured a lacklustre second quarter - but found himself bottled up behind another pair of two-stoppers in a race that featured more than its fair share of alternative strategies. Immediately ahead of the Briton when he emerged from his stop was Christian Klien, the Austrian putting in a reasonable run on a track he knows better than most, while David Coulthard belied the fact that he had started on the penultimate row by running fourth, having benefited from the first corner melee.
Having dispensed with the Jaguar, Button also made short work of the McLaren, thrusting past Coulthard at the very spot where they had collided a year ago. Once into fourth, the BAR driver tried all he could to close the gap to Barrichello, but continued to struggle with the lack of grip that had plagued his qualifying effort and held nothing more than a watching brief.
Out front, Schumacher continued to re-establish his advantage, opening out 16 seconds over Sato by the 20-lap mark, his only problem appearing to be the number of backmarkers he was due to lap before the end of the other forty. Incredibly, he came close to disaster on a couple of occasions, both of which came as he was passing the pit exit on the run to turn one. First, Olivier Panis appeared oblivious to the Ferrari's presence as he attempted to keep ahead of Montoya, then, ten laps later, Mark Webber - on a two-stop strategy - did much the same thing, running the world champion wide into the opening corner and receiving a dismissive gesture from the German as he passed.
Schumacher's ability to take on more fuel than his rivals at his first stop was highlighted when Sato ducked in from second a lap or two earlier than the Ferrari, again dropping behind Barrichello as he did so. Schumacher, however, was never under threat from his team-mate and, despite a sticky fuel hose, managed to rejoin comfortably ahead of the Brazilian.
The chasing pack had settled down somewhat by the mid-point, with Button only dropping behind Alonso due to his second stop, but holding sway over Monaco winner Trulli, as well as Giancarlo Fisichella and Webber, who occupied the final point-scoring places. Out of the equation, however, was Coulthard, who joined his McLaren team-mate on the sidelines with..... you guessed it - an engine failure.
Further back in the pack and there were a few more close battles to be had, with Christian Klien's defence of tenth place from Juan Montoya, and Olivier Panis' desire to remain ahead of Olivier Panis despite pitting, among the highlights. Klien refused to be cowed by his rival's greater experience or speed, but eventually had to give way after the pair had come close in the manner of Coulthard vs. Alonso 2003. Heidfeld, meanwhile, exited the pits right in front of his Toyota-mounted adversary and, having fended the Frenchman off, pulled away over the second half.
Barrichello waited until lap 38 before making his second and final stop, taking ten second but still rejoining ahead of fourth-placed Button. That was crucial to the outcome of the race, as being bottled up behind the Briton could have allowed Sato to spring his three-stop trap and vault past the Brazilian into second place. As it turned out, Rubens eked out a small gap over the second BAR, and, when Sato tailed Schumacher into the pits, had just enough in hand to hold second spot.
Sato exited the pits at the same time as his team-mate came through, but Button took the sensible option of letting his better placed colleague resume his pursuit of Barrichello, easing wide at turn one to make sure there was no embarrassing contact between the two white cars. Sato's fight looked lost as Barrichello extended his advantage while the BAR got up to speed, but, just a lap later, the two were together, Sato attempting to exploit the best of his tyres by diving down the inside of the Brazilian at turn one.