Michael Schumacher continued his record of winning every race he has finished in 2004, and took his 60th victory in Ferrari colours, with another product of pace and strategy at Magny-Cours.

Unable to do anything about polewinner Fernando Alonso while running a similar race plan, Schumacher was switched to a four-stop strategy by technical director Ross Brawn and, using a lighter fuel load and his own prodigious talent, opened out enough of an advantage over his Renault-mounted pursuer to have enough time in hand to make the extra pit-call.

Alonso held on to take a comfortable second place, albeit some eight seconds adrift of the victor, allowing attention to switch to the battle for third. Initially this had involved Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button, but Rubens Barrichello closed in over the second half of the 70-lap race, leap-frogging Button for fourth at the third round of stops. The Brazilian appeared destined for fourth place - still impressive from tenth on the grid - but, while Trulli was thinking the same thing, squeezed his Ferrari up the inside at the final corner and went off to join team leader Schumacher on the podium.

Behind fifth-placed Button, the two new McLarens lasted the distance to claim points for sixth and seventh - David Coulthard ahead of Kimi Raikkonen - while Juan Pablo Montoya overcame a wild-handling Williams for the final score.

Marc Gene finished an equally disappointing tenth, behind Jaguar's Mark Webber, while Takuma Sato posted the first retirement - with yet another engine failure on his BAR.

The race began in expected fashion, with the superior starting potential of Alonso's Renault giving him the jump on Schumacher in Grande Courbe. With the Ferrari driver tucking in tight behind the Spaniard, there was little room for anyone else to make inroads into the top two, although Trulli tried mightily from fifth place, having got the better of David Coulthard and Jenson Button off the line. The Italian completed his move on the BAR heading for Adelaide, but then began the painful task of watching the leading duo pulling inexorably away.

Towards the back of the grid, Olivier Panis' hopes of notching up more points on home soil to go with those he secured in his 150th GP all but disappeared with the red starting lights, as his Toyota moved, slowed and then picked up slowly, leaving the Frenchman trailing the other 19 runners.

Alonso and Schumacher opened their gap to the rest of the field at such a rate that it began to suggest that both had been running extremely light in qualifying, and were five seconds to the good inside eight laps. Trulli had his mirrors full of Button's BAR, while Coulthard - who had managed to halt his slide at fifth - was holding his own against Montoya, Raikkonen and Barrichello, who quickly got the better of Sato in the opening laps.

Having got close to lap record pace, Schumacher became the first man to dive for the pits, catching some observers by surprise as he arrived for a refill and new tyres on lap eleven. He was joined on pit-road by Raikkonen, Cristiano da Matta and Marc Gene, and returned to the track in the middle of a battle for tenth involving various Jaguars and Saubers. The strategy at this point looked a little off target, as Alonso made hay out front, extending his advantage ahead of a lap 14 stop of his own.

The Renault returned to the race still holding first place, as his main rivals all took their turn to pit. Only the Jaguars and Saubers that Schumacher initially found himself among appeared to have opted for longer stints, but the world champion had already fought clear of the obstacles and was working his way back into the fight.

It was at this point - while Sato was retiring with another smoky Honda and Montoya enduring a lurid spin across the start/finish line in what he reported to be an ill-handling FW26 - that the Ferrari brains trust clicked into action. Aware that their man would likely be unable to get the better of Alonso without outside help, they decided to alter his gameplan to try and engineer an opening.

Trailing the Renault by two seconds as Felipe Massa became the last driver to pit on lap 21, Schumacher was instructed to push hard. Half a second a lap began to disappear off Alonso's advantage, although the Ferrari was never close enough to do anything more than shadow the leader before it peeled back into the pits on lap 29.

Alonso, as had been the case first time around, stayed out longer and pressed on, but it quickly became clear that his Michelins were beginning to pass their best, the back end of the R24 sliding around under both braking and acceleration. The Renault mechanics appeared in pit-lane, but they were for Trulli, and the leader had to circulate once more before coming in for replacement rubber. The tide appeared to have turned.

Although Alonso received a quick service, and was stationary for less than seven seconds, Schumacher flashed past the pit exit before his opponent appeared at end of the speed-control zone within. Two new lap records, allied to what we now know was a short fill, allowed the German to pull ahead of his rival and open out a three-second advantage by the end of Alonso's first lap back on track.

That gap had extended slightly by lap 42, when the world champion caught many unawares for the second time by re-entering the pits. What some assumed was a problem for the #1 car proved simply to be the next stage in Brawn's grand plan, and another six-second turnaround had Schumacher back in the fray chasing down an eleven-second deficit to his race-long rival.

In their wake, and only just catching the receding edge of the ripples they left behind them, Trulli continued to hold sway in the battle for third, still with Button for company. Into fifth, however, had come Barrichello, flying after a hydraulic problem had restricted him to tenth in qualifying, and disposing of both McLarens during the pit-stops. With the lone BAR bottled up behind Trulli, the Brazilian quickly closed in on his next quarry, with Button getting noticeably more ragged as he attempted to extract extra speed from his mount as a means of defence.

The battle was interrupted momentarily as Barrichello headed for the pits on lap 51 and Button one tour later, and came to a head as the Briton lurched away from the box. The briefest of delays followed while he gathered it all up again, but it was enough to allow Trulli to retain third by the smallest of margins - and Barrichello to get a sniff of fourth as the two cars ran side-by-side down to Adelaide. On the inside, the Ferrari held the upper hand and, despite becoming the meat in a three-wide sandwich with Button and a lapped Jordan, managed to make the move stick.

The riddle surrounding Schumacher's early third stop quickly became apparent when the Ferrari headed back for pit-lane on lap 57, now with a handy margin over Alonso. A new set of soft Bridgestones - Barrichello, incidentally, had opted for the harder variety - was fitted to the German's car in a stop last just 5.8secs and he was off again, taking full advantage of Magny-Cours short pit-lane to emerge still with a comfort zone. From there on, only unforeseen circumstances would prevent another notch being added to an already impressive record.

While Alonso tried all he knew to close the gap and rescue something with which to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Renault's first F1 win, Trulli continued to have his hands full fending off the other Ferrari. Button remained an active observer in the scrap, although not close enough to take advantage of a slip by Barrichello at Chateau d'Eau, when the Brazilian had to run wide to avoid collecting a hard-braking Italian

Coulthard and Raikkonen ran in tandem a little further back, the new MP4-19B running solidly if unspectacularly on route to more points. Montoya, having recovered from his spin and another moment at the Nurburgring complex occupied the final points position, but was stuck in a no-man's land between Raikkonen and Mark Webber, who underlined his credentials for replacing the Colombian next season by moving in and out of the top eight as the pit-stops took place. The Australian also finished ahead of the second FW26 of Gene, which simply could not make an impact on the points.

Schumacher duly took his ninth win of the year, his 60th as a Ferrari pilot and the seventh of his career at Magny-Cours - equalling the record he set recently in Montreal - with Alonso following eight seconds adrift. But the race did not end there...

A further 23 seconds back from the young Spaniard, the Trulli-Barrichello-Button train remained in close combat. Perhaps thinking that his job was already done, however, Trulli entered the final Lycee complex on a line that compromised his exit, but allowed enough of a gap for Barrichello to chance his arm - and the Brazilian was not about to waste an opportunity to join his team leader on the podium. Squeezing inside the Renault, Barrichello gave Trulli no room to retaliate on exit, stealing third place well before the line.

It was Renault's party and they can cry if they want to....

Race result:

1. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 70 laps 1hr 30min 18.133secs
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault +08.300secs
3. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +31.600secs
4. Jarno Trulli Italy Renault-Renault +32.000secs
5. Jenson Button Britain BAR-Honda +32.400secs
6. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes +35.500secs
7. Kimi Raikkonen Finland McLaren-Mercedes +36.200secs
8. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW +43.400secs

9. Mark Webber Australia Jaguar-Cosworth +52.300secs
10. Marc Gene Spain Williams-BMW +56.100secs
11. Christian Klien Austria Jaguar-Cosworth +1 lap
12. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
13. Felipe Massa Brazil Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
14. Cristiano da Matta Brazil Toyota-Toyota +1 lap
15. Olivier Panis France Toyota-Toyota +2 laps
16. Nick Heidfeld Italy Jordan-Ford +2 laps
17. Giorgio Pantano Italy Jordan-Ford +3 laps
18. Gianmaria Bruni Italy Minardi-Cosworth +4 laps

Rtd Zsolt Baumgartner Hungary Minardi-Cosworth 31 laps completed
Rtd Takuma Sato Japan BAR-Honda 15 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 15.377secs lap 32