Italian GP 2001 - Montoya takes advantage
16 September 2001
Juan Montoya finally broke his grand prix duck after a solid workmanlike performance brought him victory in front of Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
In truth, the event should have gone the Scuderia's way, even though it opted for an unusual two-stop strategy, but pit problems delayed its lead car enough to allow Montoya to sprint through for a win in the closing stages.
The race began under another cloud, following former F1 driver Alex Zanardi's horrific accident in the Lausitzring CART event, and, with last year's tragic Italian GP still firmly in the minds of many, a row broke out over whether the race should effectively start under yellow flags to prevent a repeat of the first lap accident that claimed the life of fire marshal Paolo Ghislimberti.
Despite the best efforts of Michael Schumacher - who, it should be noted, had nothing to gain from a 'no overtaking' rule after qualifying only third - neither the drivers nor their employers could reach a consensus, and the race began in normal fashion with the rush towards Rettifilio.
Thankfully, most of the 22 starters used their heads and, with one exception, the entire field made it through the right-left complex unscathed. The unlucky man was Jarno Trulli, who was tipped into a spin by the impetuous Jenson Button, as the Benetton driver attempted to use his impressive launch control software to full effect. It was of little consolation to the Italian that his potential 2002 team-mate lost his nose and, three laps later, his engine.
At the front of the field, Montoya was far enough ahead not to be caught up in the minor melee behind him, and led through the second chicane as well. Barrichello, from second on the grid, also held station, but there was a brief skirmish between the Schumacher brothers at the first Lesmo, as Michael stuck his Ferrari firmly up the inside of Ralf's Williams to maintain third spot.
The opening laps suggested nothing other than a Montoya victory, the Colombian gradually easing out a one second advantage over the chasing Barrichello, but things were never quite as they seemed at Monza.
With the tifosi abnormally subdued after the week's events, Barrichello slowly reeled the leader back in, apparently taking advantage of Michelin's known early lap degradation. By lap nine, the Brazilian was in front, passing his quarry when Montoya out-braked himself approaching the Roggia chicane, and, by lap ten, was already pulling away.
Montoya's 'problem' now dropped him into the grasp of Schumacher, the second Ferrari quickly gobbling up the gap to the Williams and shaping to pass it, although this never quite happened. Ralf, in the second of the blue-and-white cars was already dropping back, the problems of Friday and Saturday seemingly unresolved.
Behind the top four, the pack was already showing signs of thinning out, early retirements accounting for David Coulthard, as engine failure knocked the McLaren man out of fifth, and Eddie Irvine, as well as both Trulli and Button.
Into the Scot's top six place came the remarkable Jos Verstappen who, like seventh-placed Jean Alesi, had taken full advantage of the Button-inspired mayhem at the Rettifilio to gain even more places than his usual rocket start could bring. Sadly, it was not to last for the likeable Dutchman, who slowly began to slip back down the order, being passed first by Alesi and then by Kimi Raikkonen, whose Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld had joined the other Benetton Giancarlo Fisichella in starting from the pits after problems on the grid.
No sooner had it looked like being the class of the field, than Ferrari stunned the rest of the paddock by sending its pit crew out onto the apron. Perhaps one of the cars had a problem. Maybe it was tactical to try and vault Schumacher ahead of the stubborn Montoya. But, surely, the home team was not going to try and run a two-stop strategy on the fastest track of the year. Was it?
As incredible as it may have sounded, this was exactly the plan, and explained why Barrichello was able to romp away from Montoya in the ten laps between passing the Colombian and making his stop.
Schumacher was first in, the world champion stationary for a shade over ten seconds, rejoining the race in fourth behind his brother. Barrichello followed suit next time around, but was motionless for a lot longer, after the team experienced some confusion with the fuel hose. The extra six seconds spent sitting helpless would prove very costly....
The Ferrari tactic, borne out of concern regarding overheating brakes, promoted Montoya back to the front, with Ralf acting as his reluctant lieutenant some way back but, importantly, in front of the two red-and-black cars. Montoya's lead was as much as 20 seconds approaching the halfway point of the race - not quite enough to rejoin in front, but close to the numbers required to have a shot at the first victory.
His path was eased by more holes in the midfield, where places had been vacated by Mika Hakkinen, who pulled off at the Rettifilio, and Verstappen, whose slide down the order eventually prompted him to pull out.
Sure enough, Montoya's sole stop dropped him back behind both Schumacher Jr and Barrichello but, with the German yet to stop, the fight now appeared to be purely a South American one.
When Schumacher finally stopped, Barrichello held a 13secs advantage over Montoya, the Williams once again coming under pressure from the second Ferrari as Michael Schumacher closed back in. Not content to rely on his team leader, however, Barrichello promptly banged in a new fastest lap. Williams replied, but it was Ralf who was most on the pace, and the two traded times over the next few tours.
The Williams pit, however, remained in confident mood, for it firmly believed that Ferrari would have to stop again. The belief was proved entirely correct when Schumacher peeled out from Montoya's wake, took on fuel and tyres, and rejoined in fourth place.
Barrichello again waited just one more lap before making his stop, and this time the pressure was on the Ferrari crew to turn him around in double-quick time. The stop was better, even though new tyres were again the order of the day, but the Brazilian was only third when he rejoined the fray.
Now the scene was set for a Williams one-two - provided Montoya's car and luck held together for the remaining laps - although Barrichello was trying everything in his power to prevent a blue-and-whitewash in front of the massed ranks of red-shirted tifosi.
His pit-stop had returned him to the track not far behind Schumacher, and the Brazilian quickly caught the out-of-sorts German. Tucking into his slipstream rounding the Parabolica, Barrichello was able to slingshot to the inside approaching the Rettifilio for the 48th lap. Schumacher was not about to give up, and left his braking surprisingly late in an effort to stave off the Ferrari. In the end, it proved to be just too late, the Williams having no option but to take to the concrete run-off on the inside of the left-hand part of the chicane. Although he held his position as a result, Schumacher quickly realised that this would constitute a penalty, and let Barrichello though approaching Grande Curve.
Once free of the Williams, the Brazilian put his foot down in an effort to reel in Montoya for a second time. The laps were running out, however, and, despite nicking tenths back here and there, there was insufficient margin for him to catch the Colombian. Yellow flags at Lesmo I, for the stranded Alex Yoong, made life a little more difficult, and Barrichello eventually had to give second best to his rival.
The gap was a mere five seconds - one less than he had lost with the pit-stop problem....
The other Ferrari trailed home in fourth, its driver never really looking as though he wanted to be at Monza, let alone racing, and was followed at a distance by the Jaguar of Pedro de la Rosa and Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda.
Whatever problem has ailed the car of team-mate Irvine also appeared to be having an effect of de la Rosa as both Jaguars, sporting black airboxes in much the same way as Ferrari had mournful nosecones, slipped slightly after good starts. The Spaniard, however, managed to recover and, stopping later than most, was in a position to take his second points of the season.
Villeneuve had more work to do, the Canadian surprisingly lifting off early approaching the first chicane and being swallowed up by both Arrows and Alesi's Jordan. He trailed the yellow car - which supported a sympathetic stars-and-stripes on its airbox - for some time, and benefited when Alesi had to make a second stop. The Frenchman was also passed by the subdued Raikkonen and finished eighth overall.
Fisichella and Heidfeld recovered from their delayed starts to follow the second BAR of Olivier Panis across the line, the whole group having been held up by the resolute Enrique Bernoldi in the first half of the race. The Brazilian dropped to an eventual 14th after problems late on, and was classified behind grand prix newcomer Tomas Enge and the leading Minardi of Fernando Alonso, which was delayed by a sticking wheel at his only pit-stop.
Montoya's celebrations were as muted as could be expected of a first time grand prix winner, particularly after the false starts he had endured in Brazil, Austria and Germany, but he retained a modicum of decorum bearing in mind the pre-race events in America and Germany.
Despite the joy boiling inside him, there was also no champagne shower on the podium for a second year at Monza.
1. Juan Montoya Colombia Williams-BMW 53 laps 1hr 16mins 58.493secs
2. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +5.175secs
3. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-BMW +17.335secs
4. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +24.991secs
5. Pedro de la Rosa Spain Jaguar-Cosworth +1min 14.984secs
6. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Honda +1min 22.469secs
7. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Sauber-Petronas +1min 23.107secs
8. Jean Alesi France Jordan-Honda +1 lap
9. Olivier Panis France BAR-Honda +1 lap
10. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Renault +1 lap
11. Nick Heidfeld Germany Sauber-Petronas +1 lap
12. Tomas Enge Czech Republic Prost-Acer +1 lap
13. Fernando Alonso Spain Minardi-European +2 laps
14. Enrique Bernoldi Brazil Arrows-Asiatech +7 laps
Rtd Alex Yoong Malaysia Minardi-European 44 laps completed
Rtd Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Prost-Acer 28 laps completed
Rtd Jos Verstappen Holland Arrows-Asiatech 25 laps completed
Rtd Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 19 laps completed
Rtd Eddie Irvine Britain Jaguar-Cosworth 14 laps completed
Rtd David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 6 laps completed
Rtd Jenson Button Britain Benetton-Renault 4 laps completed
Rtd Jarno Trulli Italy Jordan-Honda 0 laps completed
Fastest lap: Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW 1min 25.073secs