Heikki Kovalainen held his nerve under race-long pressure from championship rival Nico Rosberg to take a win in race one at Monza, with Nelson Piquet Jr taking third place behind the pace-setting pair.

The title rivals filled the front row and duly led the pack away, despite Rosberg having to survive a collision with ART Grand Prix team-mate Alex Premat on the second lap. However, having established himself in second spot, the German proved unable to find a way past Arden driver Kovalainen, despite after looking at his rear wing for almost the entire 32-lap race.

Kovalainen also had a close shave at the start of the race, going wheel-to-wheel with Jose Maria Lopez, who had made a rocket-like start from row three, but was still the first man through the chicane, followed by Rosberg, Scott Speed and an equally fast-starting Piquet.

Behind them, however, some typical Monza mayhem ensued, with Juan Cruz Alvarez crossing the track sharply at the start and leaving Olivier Pla, who was slow away due to team-mate Giorgio Mondini stalling in front of him, nowhere to go but make contact with the Argentine's car. To cap a bad day for DPR, Mondini also failed to complete the first lap, while newcomer Toni Vilander and the more experienced Xandi Negrao both stalled, prompting the race director to call for the safety car.

Pla's broken car was promptly removed, and the field was released one lap later, with Kovalainen leading away - from Piquet, who cut the first chicane and rejoined ahead of Rosberg, the German also falling behind ART colleague Premat. As he looked for a way by his team-mate, who had got the jump on him at the restart, the two ART cars made brief contact, Rosberg catching Premat's right rear tyre and spinning the Frenchman off track. Premat narrowly missed a group of marshals and finished his race on the opposite side of the track with a badly broken car.

A large number of drivers had taken what they thought would be an opportunity to pit under extended yellow flags, but were caught out by the prompt restart. Among them, Speed never actually re-emerged from the pit-lane, after the iSport team discovered a problem with his car, thwarting another victory opportunity for the American.

Out in front, Kovalainen was gradually being caught by Rosberg, the German not appearing to have suffered any ill-effects from his collision with Premat as he blew past Piquet for second place. However, the ART car was unable to make any further headway as Kovalainen held firm at the front.

Ernesto Viso had climbed into a strong fourth position while all around appeared to be losing their heads, but the luckless Venezuelan was the next to park up, having been forced off track in a racing incident with Sergio Hernandez, who attempted to pass the BCN car at the chicane. The hard-charging Borja Garcia was also out, after tangling with Negrao while trying to pass the lapped Brazilian.

By lap six, the order at the front had started to settle down, with Kovalainen leading, just, from Rosberg, and Piquet, Nicolas Lapierre, Giorgio Pantano and Clivio Piccione following in line astern. Every other driver, except last-placed debutant Vilander, had pitted by this point, and had fallen some way behind.

Two laps later, the frontrunners started to come in, with Rosberg pitting and coming out in sixth before Kovalainen popped in and out one lap later. The Finn managed to retain his lead over Rosberg, while Piquet came in after leading overall for three laps - his first lead laps of the year. On pitting, however, the Brazilian re-emerged behind Rosberg once again and appeared to have to settle for the bottom step of the podium.

Kovalainen's road to victory was not going to be smooth, however, the Finn appearing to have trouble lapping Vilander as he waited for the lead to come back to him. After he had found a way past the latest Coloni recruit, the Finn's car looked quite a handful, sliding wide at almost every turn. Rosberg was already too close for comfort, but was now able to take chunks out of the gap between the leaders and, with the pit-stops over, trailed by just one second.

Vilander seemed to be giving a number of drivers a few headaches. On lap 22, Pantano was trying to lap the Finn when ran too deep on the brakes heading into the chicane. The Italian duly ran straight on and, far from suffering too much physical damage, actually set the fastest lap of the race, but later had that honour stripped, having already been assessed a drive-through penalty.

The stewards' decision promoted Lapierre to fourth, but the Frenchman could not completely shake his Super Nova shadow, as he was now followed by Adam Carroll. The Irishman had risen to an impressive fifth position from last on the grid after gearbox problems in qualifying, and was able to demonstrate a fair turn of pace as he blew past Jani across the start-finish line.

Rosberg, by now, was scenting blood and continued to push Kovalainen to the limit. The Finn, however, was somehow able to hold his errant car underneath him to take a win vital for his championship prospects, finishing just one second ahead of Rosberg, who managed to limit the damage to his own title credentials by snatching the bonus for fastest lap.

Behind them, Piquet was delighted to be back on the podium again, with Lapierre, Carroll and Pantano crossing the line well behind the Brazilian. Jani was able to hold on to seventh position ahead of an impressive drive from Ferdinando Monfardini, who will now start Sunday's race from pole position.

Can Artam missed out on what would have been his second haul of points, after Monaco, in ninth position, just fending off the remaining BCN car of Hiroki Yoshimoto at the flag. Piccione and Alvarez were next up, with Mathias Lauda edging Fairuz Fauzy as the last two runners home, as Vilander's debut fell two laps short of full distance.

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