German Grand Prix: Monty's flying circus

Juan Pablo Montoya crushed the opposition with a dominant victory in Sunday's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, the Williams-BMW ace winning by over a minute. A late puncture robbed Michael Schumacher of second, handing the place to David Coulthard.

German Grand Prix: Monty's flying circus

A searingly hot day in western Germany meant that tyre performance, and staying power, would be put to the test, or in some cases to the sword. The track temperatures were approaching 56-degrees when the field was unleashed towards Turn 1, where the action started thick and fast.

Montoya made a flying start, while fellow front row sitter Ralf Schumacher (Williams) didn't get away so cleanly. Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari was also tardy off the line, while Kimi Raikkonen, from fifth on the grid, rocketed down the left-hand side of the track.

Schumacher, aware that his second position was in jeopardy, eased across Barrichello's bows to take a good line into Turn 1, but seemed unaware that Rubens wasn't able to accommodate him due to Raikkonen's presence alongside him. He tagged Barrichello's right-front wheel, sending Rubens' car into Raikkonen's left-rear, snapping his suspension immediately and sending the McLaren across the track and into Schumacher's left sidepod.

All three went out. Raikkonen flew straight on and smacked into the tyrewall, wrecking his car and giving him a bruised leg and stiff neck. Barrichello suffered damaged front left suspension, and Schumacher managed a lap with his crumpled sidepod but was forced to call it a day too. Strike three frontrunners.

"I can't think for the 20-or-so people around me," fumed Schumacher. "I was trying to defend my position, but I made no sharp action. They had all the time in the world to get away from me."

Raikkonen said: "I didn't take a risk, I was clearly ahead of Barrichello. I don't know what happened, but he took my rear wheel off. I don't know if he moved left because of Ralf blocking him, but I had space to go there. Blaming someone doesn't change anything, but I'm not taking the blame for it. My leg is very painful when I walk, but it'll only take a few days to get over it."

Michael Schumacher also made a poor start, and was initially passed by Olivier Panis, but he stealthily trod his way through the chaos and would run fourth behind Montoya and the Renault twins, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso respectively, under the safety car.

Mark Webber's Jaguar was catapulted up to fifth from 11th on the grid, but his team-mate Justin Wilson hit Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) into a spin at the first corner and then tagged Ralph Firman's Jordan, which had already centre-punched Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber. Strike Firman, Frentzen, and Wilson, although the latter managed a couple of laps after his left-front suspension was replaced.

"It was just one of those things," said Wilson. "I slowed to avoid the initial accident, the Jacques had to avoid someone and I tapped him into a spin. Ralph came past me at a considerably higher speed and we tagged wheels."

As the race re-started, Montoya dashed away at the front from Trulli, Alonso and M Schumacher, while Coulthard (McLaren) took a couple of laps to find a way past Webber with a smart round-the-outside manoeuvre at the hairpin.

Montoya was flying on his first set of tyres, and was down in the 1m14s bracket, until he felt a slight problem with the car which hampered his top speed from lap 15 onwards. Trulli was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 14, with leader Montoya coming in three laps later. Schumacher made an 8sec stop, which hinted at a switch from the three-stop to a two-stop strategy, but Coulthard's 9.3sec stop, despite a slight problem with extracting the fuel hose, was definitely a two-stop switch.

Trulli, Alonso and Schumacher ran closely together in the middle stages of the race, with Michael taking full advantage when Alonso skipped through the gravel on the exit of the Mobil Kurve to grab third place. Alonso was still well clear of Coulthard, however, but David's two-stop strategy meant he would reap the benefit later.

The second round of pitstops would be the key, though. Schuey and Trulli, now locked in a battle for second, pitted together. Trulli spent a second less stationary, which allowed him to keep the place, but Alonso's second stop would drop him well behind Coulthard, even when David made his stop later on.

With 20 laps to go, Montoya was still lapping 1.5secs faster than the opposition, and was having no tyre issues thanks the luxury of an extra set. He made his final stop on lap 49, and victory was never in doubt thereafter. The closest he came to losing it was when grand prix debutant Nicolas Kiesa got sideways at the Sud Kurve just as Juan Pablo was lapping him.

"All weekend went really well," said Montoya. "Ralf made a different tyre choice, but ours seemed to pay off. The car was fantastic all day, and I was surprised I didn't pull away faster than I did over the first few laps. We had enough pace to pull away, and it was a case of not making any mistakes. For us, three stops was definitely the best way to go."

Backmarkers would also play a role in the fight for second. Trulli's soft option tyres were really suffering in their long, final run and Schumacher closed in. But the fastest man on the track, bar Montoya, was Coulthard and he latched on to the back of the Ferrari to make it a three-way scrap. Crucially, DC lost time lapping Jenson Button's BAR at Turn 2, allowing Schumacher the breathing space to attack Trulli on the outside at the hairpin.

Although Jarno shoved him on to the concrete run-off on the exit, Ferrari grunt powered Schumacher ahead as they entered the Mercedes tribune sequence. Coulthard, who also tried belatedly to take advantage, fluffed his lines by slithering wide at the hairpin.

DC, on the harder Michelin option, now set his sights on the hobbling Trulli. He lunged down the inside of the Renault at the hairpin on the following lap, and ran wide on the exit. Although in a similar position to Schumacher a lap before, his Merc lacked the torque of the Ferrari, and Trulli had also taken a superior exit from the tight corner. Not wanting to be overtaken in similar circumstances, Jarno held his ground when DC found himself running out of run-off. Coulthard might have shaken his fist, but Trulli it played hard but fair.

It was academic when Jarno threw the position away by sliding wide in the Mercedes Arena, and David set off in chase of Schumacher, who had made good his escape, for second.

The half-filled grandstands were robbed of a grandstand finish, alas, when Schumacher picked up a left-rear puncture, which dropped him to seventh. Not even his powers of recovery could catch sixth placed Cristiano da Matta (Toyota), but Michael could take solace in setting the fastest first sector of the race on the very last lap!

Coulthard was happy to finish second from 10th on the grid: "I struggled in the first few laps after my pit stops, I picked up quite a bit of understeer for about 10 laps. That made it difficult to carry the pace I had when I was running on my own behind other cars."

Trulli was in all sorts of trouble after his podium appearance, having wrestled his car home, and failed to make the press conference as he was being doused in water and almost force-fed liquids after looking very unsteady on his feet. Alonso was just 0.3secs behind him at the finish, and had good cause to rue his off-track excursion earlier in the race.

Toyota had a good day, with Panis and da Matta finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Behind Schumacher, Jenson Button grabbed the final point on offer after Mark Webber ploughed into the Sachs Kurve tyrewall on the final lap, dropping him to 11th.

Villeneuve and Nick Heidfeld (Sauber) battled for most of the afternoon and came home ninth and 10th. Kiesa finished his first grand prix in a respectable 12th, while Giancarlo Fisichella was classified 13th although his Jordan ground to a half in the pit lane with five laps remaining.

Montoya's second victory of the season puts him within six points of points leader M Schumacher (71-65), with Raikkonen dropping to third on 62.

Four races to go. Williams in the ascendancy. Schuey isn't immune to bad luck after all. Game on!

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Montoya Takes Dominant Win at the German GP

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