Race stewards at the Monaco Grand Prix have decided that they cannot apportion blame for the incident that removed Michael Schumacher from the lead of the event.

The German had temporarily assumed control as long-time leader Jarno Trulli ducked into the pits for his second stop while the safety car was on track, and was preparing to make a quick getaway at the resumption of racing when he was tipped into a spin going through the tunnel section.

Television replays showed the Ferrari driver locking his left front wheel, presumably in an attempt to generate some heat in his brakes ahead of the restart, but was then collected from behind by arch-rival Juan Montoya, whose Williams pitched the championship leader into the barriers.

Paddock opinion on the incident varied according to who was asked, with Williams and Ferrari both suggesting that the other was at fault. Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn refused to blame Montoya directly, but hinted that the Colombian should have been aware of what Schumacher was doing, while Williams counterpart Patrick Head questioned the wisdom of making a hard stop while heading through the only part of the circuit without natural sunlight....

Montoya, while contrite over the incident, said that he was not completely to blame, having tried to thread his Williams between the Ferrari and the crash barrier.

"Michael braked very hard as he was warming up his brakes," he confirmed, "I moved to the right side of the track to avoid him, but the gap narrowed and we touched."

Schumacher, too, tried hard to forgive Montoya, despite agreeing with Brawn's assessment that the leader of the pack should be able to set the pace.

"I was accelerating and braking just as we do when we go to the grid - and in the standard way when running behind the safety car,"he explained, "The tunnel was not even the first place I had done it, as I had used the same procedure earlier in the lap...

"The situation is that the race leader was knocked out of the race after being hit by a backmarker," he added bluntly, "However, I am sure there was no deliberate intention on his part and I accept the steward's decision."

The safety car was on track following a mid-race accident involving Montoya's team-mate and Schumacher's brother, Ralf, that led to the elimination of the second Renault, driven by Fernando Alonso. The regie's Jarno Trulli went on to take his maiden F1 triumph after fending off a late-race challenge from Jenson Button.

The Italian was in the queue behind Schumacher and Montoya when the incident happened, and agreed that it was probably just an unfortunate occurrence.

"To be honest, it is so difficult to comment," he said, "I just saw both of them accelerating and warming their tyres up and locking both tyres. I think they were just trying to warm the tyres up and they just didn't get it right and, while Schumacher was slowing down, Montoya was accelerating. Montoya tried to slow down, get on the inside to avoid the crash but, at the same time, I think Michael was pulling to the right, the inside, and they both collided and then that was it. It was very strange.

"I try to keep away from the guy in front of me and have a couple of cars' distance, but Montoya was not doing that. On the other hand, Michael was obviously trying to warm up the tyres. It is difficult to say who was at fault. I saw that something was going on because they were so close, going really fast, down to the Mirabeau, and, in the end, it happened in the tunnel."

Button said that he was not as well placed to comment on the incident, having not long made his pit-stop and being further back in the queue, but couldn't believe that Schumacher had done anything untoward.

"Obviously, you can't brake suddenly and then speed off again," he said, "but I don't think Michael did that. You do need to warm your brakes up a bit, so there is a fine line between what looks like brake testing and what is just warming your brakes up."

The incident ended Schumacher's hopes of beating Nigel Mansell's record of five straight wins at the start of the season, but the German retained a healthy points lead over team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who claimed a subdued third in Monaco.


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