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.