Juan Montoya battled a failing tyre in the closing stages of the Italian Grand Prix to claim his second world championship victory of the season. However, the win was not enough to help McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who saw his title hopes take another small blow.

Montoya led from start to finish, only ceding his advantage during the pit-stops windows, but had Fernando Alonso dogging his every step, the Spaniard doing just enough to keep his title assault ticking over. With main rival Raikkonen starting back in eleventh after another pre-race engine change, the Renault man knew that finishing had become his main priority.

Raikkonen made life difficult for himself at the start, falling behind Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber after a cautious getaway, but then not being able to clear the Canadian for several valuable laps. Although clearly the fastest man in F1 at the moment, and having set the 'pole' time with a heavier fuel load than any other driver, the Finn was aiming for a podium at best.

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Montoya got the drop on Alonso at the start, and the Spaniard decided that there was no point going wheel-to-wheel with his rival through the tight opening chicane, slotting into second early on the run down to the right-hander. Those immediately behind also decided that discretion ought to be the better part of valour and, with the exception of Takuma Sato, who took a slightly unorthodox line, filed through politely.

Further back, however, the growing logjam caught a number of drivers out, with David Coulthard tagging the back of Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault, breaking his front wing, and Mark Webber doing likewise on the back of the Red Bull-Cosworth. Right at the back, a similar scenario was playing out, with final starter Christijan Albers being surprised by Narain Karthikeyan's line and spinning the Indian across the kerbs. All four victims would pit at the end of the lap, hampering their chances of featuring in the fastest race of the year.

Montoya, having already underlined the speed of the McLaren-Mercedes combination by reaching 372kph in testing, quickly established a cushion over his pursuers, with Alonso equally comfortable in second place. The Spaniard had been encouraged by the Renault's pace down the straights in practice, and eased away from the chasing pack, headed by Jenson Button.

The Briton had made a solid getaway, despite having been smoking on the startline, and fell into line behind the two front row men. Team-mate Sato lost a place to Jarno Trulli because of his off-line entrance to the chicane, but was quickly back into fourth after daring to pass the Italian around the outside into Parabolica at the end of the lap.

Trulli initially appeared to have a problem, because both Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher quickly blew past the Toyota, although the German had to cut the chicane to get his move completed, and duly fell back into line behind Trulli to avoid incurring a penalty. Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher were right with this group, the Italian not showing any damage from DC's kiss, while Villeneuve and Raikkonen were not far adrift.

The Finn, however, was already ten seconds adrift of his team-mate, and would continue to fall further behind with every lap he was left to stare at the Sauber's rear wing. For all the McLaren's undoubted pace, it was only when the first pit-stop window 'opened' that the McLaren man sensed a chance to progress, overtaking difficult such was his fuel load. Villeneuve was among the first of the stoppers, following the two Ferraris in on lap 14, but Raikkonen was, by now 30secs off the pace.

His heavier fuel load soon began to pay dividends, however, and Raikkonen was able to pick off several of those to stop before him, inching his way up the order, if not necessarily any closer to his team-mate. He was aided by a slow stop for Jenson Button and a problematic one for Sato, whose data conned the BAR team into believing that he had not got any fuel when, instead, he was brimming. A second stop one lap later came too soon for the team to recognise the error, dropping the Japanese driver towards the tail of the field.

Alonso also suffered a slow stop, but the problem affected little but the gap between himself and the leader. The Spaniard had qualified lighter than team-mate Fisichella - emphasising the costliness of Fisi's brake problem - and it was the Italian who took over at the front when Montoya made his call on lap 20. The gory of leading in front of his home crowd lasted only a lap, however, and normal service was quickly resumed at the front.

The tifosi was treated to the rare sight of Alonso and Raikkonen going head-to-head, however, tricked by the different schedules being employed by Renault and McLaren. Alonso emerged right in front of the Finn after his stop, but quickly allowed his rival track position as he concentrated on consistency and a safe race to the podium.

Raikkonen had worked his way into second place - and part of a McLaren 1-2 - by the time he had to pit, finally stopping on lap 25. With the race close to half-distance, the McLaren team took the decision to hold its charge a little longer than usual, topping him off for a run to the flag where just about everyone else was planning on a two-stop strategy.

Raikkonen dropped back in in fifth place, behind Trulli and ahead of Button, but had just three laps to try and make up ground before something appeared amiss with the rear of the MP4-20. A moment at the second Lesmo convinced the driver that he need to seek help, and a black ring circling the left rear Michelin did likewise for his crew, which quickly appeared in pit-lane. The one-stop strategy was already blown, a disappointment emphasised by the sight of Raikkonen rejoining in twelfth, directly behind early nemesis Villeneuve.

The second round of pit-stops did little to shake up the order at the head of the field, with Montoya and Alonso holding position, with Fisichella now established in third place. The late stoppers continued to throw a visual spanner in the works, however, none moreso than Antonio Pizzonia, who appeared briefly in fourth place, ahead of the Toyotas, Ferraris and Button. The Brazilian, hauled out of bed to replace the ailing Nick Heidfeld on Saturday morning, had qualified at the back of the midfield, but kept his head and increased his pace, passing rivals to move up the order rather than relying purely on Williams' pit-stop strategy. By the time of his own second stop, 'Jungle Boy' had built up enough of a cushion to slot back into seventh.

By now, the crowd would have realised the Ferrari's worst predictions were closest to the mark, with both Barrichello and Schumacher having dropped out of the top eight positions they had held in the early stages. Unable to run with the likes of McLaren and Renault, the Scuderia also found Toyota a tough prospect, before conceding to Pizzonia as well.

Barrichello was holding ninth place, and Schumacher tenth, when the Brazilian developed a slow puncture in his left rear, prompting an immediate stop. Having tailed his team-mate from the start, Schumacher was now able to focus on an alternative rear wing, that of Button, He was homing in on the BAR with just a lap of so to run when, pushing too hard, the world champion found the Ferrari getting away from him. The error dropped him behind future team-mate Felipe Massa, back into tenth place, where he would finish.

Schumacher was not the only big name to rotate under pressure, for Raikkonen ended his hopes of a podium by doing likewise as he attempted to hunt down Fisichella. The Italian was being urged to push in order to preserve his third place, but Raikkonen was continuing to eat away at the gap before losing the rear of the McLaren at the Roggia chicane. The Finn was lucky not to beach the car in the gravel, and rejoined, back behind Trulli once again, in fifth place. The Italian was easy pickings for the fired-up McLaren man, however, but the gap between Raikkonen and Fisichella has stretched again, condemning the Finn to fourth.

In about the same place as Raikkonen concluded his move on Trulli, team-mate Montoya suffered the biggest scare of an otherwise impeccable race. Power on as he exited the Parabolica, the Colombian suddenly felt the rear of the McLaren twitch left, and the sight in his mirrors would have momentarily filled him with despair, for there was a black ring similar to that which had forced his team-mate into the pits earlier in the piece.

Handed a decision akin to that which it was forced to take at the Nurburgring, McLaren again opted to take the risk of keeping its man on track. Three laps remained, and Alonso was about seven seconds back. Surely fate could not strike twice.... Montoya reduced his pace just a fraction, aware of the need to secure as many points as possible towards the constructors' championship, but was helped by his closest rival having all but settled for second. Alonso reduced the gap to just over two seconds at the flag, but the victory was McLaren's.

With F1's top two teams again filling the first four positions, the calculators were out to see who had gained and who had lost. Victory for Montoya allowed McLaren to inch one point closer to Renault in the teams' standings, but Raikkonen's fourth meant that Alonso eked out another three points in the individual championship, the Spaniard now able to clinch the crown in one week's time at the circuit where he first came to wider attention by winning the final round of the 2000 F3000 championship.