Report: Trulli wins Monaco
Renault's Jarno Trulli scored his maiden grand prix victory in Monaco on Sunday, the Italian keeping his cool to beat the strong late challenge of BAR's Jenson Button. Incredibly, Michael Schumacher crashed out of the lead behind the safety car by clashing with the lapped Juan Pablo Montoya
Monaco 2004 will be remembered for many things: Trulli's maiden grand prix victory, Renault's first in Monte Carlo; Button's brave chase in the late stages; Giancarlo Fisichella's scary flip over the rear of David Coulthard; Fernando Alonso's massive shunt in the tunnel - the list goes on. But perhaps it will be remembered most for being the race where Michael Schumacher crashed, while leading, behind the safety car.
Following an aborted start for Olivier Panis' stalled Toyota, you had the feeling it was going to be one of those races when Takuma Sato (BAR) made an amazing start from seventh on the grid, clipping Michael Schumacher's front-right wheel as he zoomed past the Ferrari, and then going three-wide with team-mate Jenson Button and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen at Sainte Devote. Pole sitter Trulli, meanwhile, made a flying start, while Button's was no match for Fernando Alonso, who made it a Renault 1-2.
Raikkonen clipped Button, but Jenson escaped in third, ahead of Sato, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Further back, the Jaguar of Christian Klien lasted only until Loews, where he hit the wall after removing his front wing against the back of another car.
Sato was in trouble straight away, his Honda's engine smoking. The Japanese tenaciously clung to fourth for two and a half laps, causing a bottleneck of cars to form behind him, which made it all the more dangerous when his engine blew at Tabac in such an opaque cloud that visibility was reduced to zero.
Raikkonen was the first to get a face-full of Honda remnants, the Finn admitting to "not seeing a thing but I just drove through it". Barrichello, meanwhile, was less gung-ho, leaping on the brakes and almost hitting the barrier "despite doing about zero miles an hour". Coulthard almost drove into the rear of the parked BAR, and maybe wished he had when Fisichella's Sauber hurtled into the back of his own car.
Poor Giancarlo was launched into a sickening roll, halted in mid-flight as he struck the guardrail at 90-degrees to the horizontal. Fortunately, the roll bar took the impact, and he staggered away unharmed.
The safety car was required, although a red flag was initially displayed at the start/finish line, and Nick Heidfeld (Jordan) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams) took the opportunity to pit.
At the restart, Trulli led Alonso, Button, Raikkonen and M Schumacher. Montoya grabbed sixth from Barrichello, who was already suffering with a handling imbalance with his Ferrari.
Button was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 18, but he rejoined right behind Cristiano da Matta's Toyota, which lost him a whole heap of time. Raikkonen was in a lap later, and Barrichello on the next tour.
With Raikkonen out of his way, Schuey got the hammer down, reeling off a sensational sequence of 1m14s laps. His best, a 1m14.4s, bettered his qualifying time! All this was enough to give him third when he pitted on lap 26, two laps later than Trulli and a lap after Alonso made their first of two stops.
Button was now fourth, a whole 5.4secs behind Schumacher thanks to da Matta, while Raikkonen was a further 9.9secs in arrears of the Briton. The Finn's nightmare season would continue in that vein, however, forced out on lap 27 with hydraulic failure. Further back, Montoya, who pitted as early as lap 13, finally got past Heidfeld for eighth after a battle that lasted over 10 laps.
Trulli led Alonso by 3.2secs at this point, with Schumacher 4.4secs further back. Alonso used backmarkers to get within less than a second of the leader on lap 31, but was over 2secs behind when he crashed out dramatically in the tunnel while lapping the Williams of Ralf Schumacher.
"Ralf moved to the right in the tunnel," explained Fernando. "When we were side-by-side, he got in the throttle again and pushed me towards the outside barrier. It was his fault, like most of the accidents he is involved in, but I won't waste my time in speaking with him about it."
Alonso had already made his feelings perfectly clear, giving Schumacher the bird before his shattered car had ceased its pinball like progress down the hill towards the new chicane.
Trulli and Button took the chance to pit, but as Schumacher was well laden with fuel, he stayed out. That put him in the lead, with only the lapped Montoya between himself and Trulli before the restart. He didn't get that far, however.
Just why he decided to warm his brakes in such violent fashion in the darkness of the tunnel will probably remain a mystery. Montoya reported Schumacher performed a 'burn-out' before slamming on the anchors, causing Juan Pablo to take avoiding action. He swerved right, missing the rear of the Ferrari initially, but Schumacher turned right too, as the apex of the tunnel approached, pinching the Williams against the barrier.
Contact was made, pitching Schumacher into the barrier on the right before flicking around into the wall on the opposite side, which all-but wiped out the left-front suspension of his car. Schuey limped back to the pits as the race restarted, obviously blaming Montoya, a lap down remember, for driving into the back of him, his feelings underlined as he hurled his helmet into the wall of the garage. Like Ayrton Senna's dramatic exit from the 1988 race, it will be a moment that is talked about for years to come.
As the race resumed without the world champion, Trulli pulled out a 6.7secs lead over Button by lap 51, but Jenson was not about to roll over and give up without a fight. The BAR began carving chunks out of Trulli's lead as the Italian backed off to save his car, and Jenson used the traffic to his advantage as the laps ticked down.
By lap 70, he was 1.7secs behind, and over the next few tours that fell to 1.6s, 1.4s, 1.5 and then 0.7s, 0.6s and, as the chequered flag flew, the gap between them was just 0.4s. Trulli took it in his stride, saying everything was under control in those exciting closing stages.
"It's nice to dominate the weekend, it was a faultless race," said Trulli. "I've been waiting so long and it finally came in Monaco. I did a perfect race, I was leading from the beginning and even with Michael on the track I would have won anyway, because I had already pitted. In the end I was just managing the race, slowing down, taking car of tyres and not taking any risks because, anyway, in Monaco you can't overtake."
Button said: "When I was behind Jarno, I know that you can't overtake here but I had to give everything I possibly could and maybe push him into a mistake. I know he wasn't pushing 100 percent, but I know you've got to try. I had the possibility of hitting the guardrail, but I want the win so much that I was pushing as hard I possibly could."
Barrichello cruised in a distant, and highly fortuitous, third. Montoya was fourth, with Felipe Massa (Sauber) just fending off da Matta for fifth, although the latter would have taken the position but for a late drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags. Heidfeld took Jordan's first points of the year with a gritty drive to seventh, while Panis finished eighth despite starting from the pit lane.
Zsolt Baumgartner was the only other finisher as Ralf Schumacher dropped out with just a handful of laps remaining.
As usual, it was his big brother Michael who was making the headlines. This time, however, as he was bidding to break the record for consecutive season-opening race wins, Big Schummi's luck finally ran out.
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