Michael Schumacher took an untroubled eleventh win of the season in front of his adoring fans at the German Grand Prix, but his job was made easier as, one by one, his rivals contrived to cost themselves a shot at victory.
Having secured pole position on Saturday afternoon, Schumacher made no mistake when the lights went out, leaving the first lap action to take place in his wake. The wide-open spaces of the remodelled Hockenheim allowed for much ducking and diving at each of the first two corners but, remarkably, the 20 cars managed to get through unscathed. It wasn't until the hairpin that contact was made, and it was the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello who succumbed.
Keen to make up places from his lowly grid position, the Brazilian spotted a gap inside David Coulthard's McLaren, but mistimed his lunge and, locked up, found his front wing parting company with the Ferrari. Coulthard continued unscathed, but Barrichello had to make an early pit-stop for a replacement nose that dropped him to the back of the field.
At the end of lap one, Schumacher headed Alonso, Raikkonen, Trulli and Coulthard across the line, with Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia among the biggest gainers from the chaos. Barrichello's detached wing had further delayed Montoya, who now lay seventh, while Jenson Button ran eleventh, despite having been gifted a position at the start when Olivier Panis' new Toyota had to be wheeled to the pit-lane.
Alonso's tenure of second did not last long, as Raikkonen barged his way through, determined to allow Schumacher to build too big a lead. The Finn's confidence was well-placed, for he quickly began lapping at the Ferrari's pace, and then beneath it as he began pulling the world champion back.
The first round of pit-stops interrupted the pursuit, and allowed Schumacher to resume at the head of the queue, albeit initially behind Webber and, as his BAR proved its heavier fuel load, Button. It was while the world champion ran in second spot that Raikkonen's race came to an abrupt end, the rear wing on the McLaren breaking catastrophically, and sending the Finn into a 190mph spin at the end of the main straight. Raikkonen was unhurt in the ensuing shunt, but clearly frustrated by the timing of his exit.
Button finally pitted at the end of the following lap, having run five tours longer than his main rivals and underlining just how good his provisional third spot on the grid was. Demoted ten places because of his Friday engine change, the Briton had had to start from the seventh row, but team boss David Richards was convinced that rapid progress was possible given the strategy that had been chosen to combat the penalty. As the round of pit-stops unwound fully, Button was up to fifth place, having used his late run to vault past three rivals and set himself up for a strong run in the points.
Once Raikkonen's accident had been cleared - without the need for a safety car - the race settled down into a slightly less frenetic phase, although there were still battles raging throughout the field. Chief among these was the scrap for sixth involving Jarno Trulli - who had earlier announced his departure from Renault - Webber and Takuma Sato. The Italian appeared to be struggling after his strong start, with Webber taking more than the occasional look up the inside of the R24, but it took some time for the position to change. Ironically for Webber, it took Sato to force the change, the BAR man having found a way past the Jaguar before launching an attack on Trulli. Heading into the hairpin for the 26th time, Sato stuck his nose inside the Renault and, sensing an opening, Webber followed suit, pushing Trulli back two places.
The BAR kicked off the second round of stops not long after and, when Trulli followed his rival down pit-lane, the Renault team found a piece of Raikkonen's wing lodged under the nose of the R24, hampering its handling capabilities and causing Trulli's drop in pace. The ensuing change of parts cost the Italian even more, dropping him down the order to 15th place.