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Race Highlights

Wow! What an action packed race...there was drama throughout the race from the formation lap all the way to the tight finish! Here's the high (and low) lights!

At the start, the formation lap was complete and the drivers were taking their spots on the grid when Olivier Panis lost drive and was stranded out of his pit box. It took what seemed like minutes before the race stewards signalled an aborted start and the mechanics swarmed back over the walls to tend to the quickly overheating cars.

You have to remember that these F1 cars cannot sit there on the grid running for more than 30 seconds before you start seeing telltale coolant leaks and smoke from oxidizing carbon fiber resin! There were images of Renaults leaking coolant and cars smoking filling my screen, leaving my engineer's brain very nervous about unseen damage and heat-fatigue caused by the temperature spike....it was obviously shared by the pit crews who ran, as fast as possible, down the grid carrying 20lb fans and carting 120lb generators to try and get cooling air into the sidepods! Doctor, we need Sierra Mist, STAT!

Next up, a very clean, but incredible start! Takuma Sato, starting from P7, SWOOPED past the Ferraris and Raikkonen in the MacLaren...he appeared to barge right through so quickly and forcefully that you could see Schumi and Kimi both duck aside as Taku blazed past. Up in front, Alonso got the drop on Jenson Button and slotted in to P2. Thus they got away cleanly (except for Klein in the Jag, who plowed into the barriers at St. Devote, I believe) and the order ran Trulli, Alonso, Button, Sato, Raikkonen, Schumi, Barrichello, Montoya, etc.

Drama was not far off, though, as the demons of that aborted start may have reared their ugly heads...by lap 3, Takuma's BAR was puffing blue smoke on every gear change and corner. On or around lap 4, the Honda V10 finally gave up the ghost in the swimming pool complex, arguably the worst location possible considering the blind corners!

The result of this smoke cloud was a free-for-all that consumed David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella in one of the most startling smash ups in the last two years. As they approached the stranded Honda and the wall of thick smoke, Coulthard slowed dramatically (there were reports of marshalls on the track!) and Fisichella was caught unprepared in the cloud of smoke. All you could see, from the camera views, was Fisichella's Sauber vaulting through the air and landing upside down across one of the armco barriers! The impact tore the wing off the rear of Coulthard's car and nearly landed Fisico on his head! In the end, both of them were just fine, if a little aggravated to be knocked out in such fashion.

The safety car came out and bottled up the cars for about four laps while the debris was cleared and the concrete dust ("oil dry") was put down on Sato's victory slick. At the restart, the Renaults began to pull off into the distance. This began the first stint, which was only punctuated by a few battles for position and the retirement of two Cosworth powered vehicles.

There was a great pass by Montoya on Massa, I believe, as the youngster overshot Ste. Devote. Aside from this, all was well on the harbor side venue with the running order still Trulli, Alonso, Button, Kimi, Schumi, Rubinho, etc. On lap 18, Jenson pitted in from P3, getting a decent stop (nothing spectacular) and away cleanly. However, what this did was, coupled with Kimi Raikkonen's pitstop, unleash MSchumacher for his patented "Ferrari Swoop."

In the course of the next several laps, Schumi set lap-on-lap fastest laps and gained something like 8 seconds on the rest of the front runners in the run up to his first pitstop! Button rejoined from his pitstop behind Cristiano Da Matta in the Toy-slow-ta and was held up (easily lapping 1.5-2.5 seconds per lap slower than his race pace) for the next three and a half laps until Da Matta pitted.

So it was that Michael Schumacher wound up running a strong third place and proceeded to reel in the two Renaults. All was going well for the front runners until they began to lap slower traffic. Alonso was attempting to put Ralf Schumacher's lapped Williams behind him and chose the worst possible spot to attempt the passing maneuver: inside the tunnel. At first it appeared that Alonso decided to be brazen and shove past on the outside of the turn, but I noticed something a little different from what our commentators (one of whom has eyes like a certain kind of rodent) called out. If you watched very carefully, Ralf slowed up dramatically right at the apex of the tunnel (whether it was brakes or just lifting off and using drag). This FORCED Alonso to dive outside...at any rate, Alonso wound up in the marbles and couldn't get back on line quickly enough. Put paid to one Renault!

This was a nasty dustup, similar to Jenson Button's crash last year or Takuma Sato's crash from two years ago, scattering debris all over the track right at the exit from the tunnel. The safety car was out for round 2 of the day. Oddly, it was at this point that BAR's podium got made! Shortly after Alonso stuffed it in the barrier, Button pitted in from P3 before the safety car could be deployed. This meant that Button incurred no real loss of position with his stop. At this point, the front runners all started pitting. All but Rubens Barrichello. I was mystified (and frankly I still am) about his staying on track. Ferrari missed a step here.

It was made one blow worse by the bizarre retirement (under safety car, mind you) of Michael Schumacher. He was following the safety car in P1 as the pack entered the tunnel...and he managed to somehow lock up the front left tire under braking. As he slewed into the marbles, Montoya dove inside to attempt an evasive maneuver. Montoya managed to catch Schumi's wheel with his own and spun the Ferrari. As Schumi battled to correct the car's spin, he ran out of room and smashed the front left corner of the car into the armco.

The Ferrari was completely wrecked, but somehow still rolling slowly along. Michael limped back to the pits, jumped out to have a chat with his team, and then stormed up to race control after slam dunking his helmet into a stack of team equipment. I think he was a bit pissed about being hit by Montoya, who was technically a lap down.

A lap or two after that, the safety car pitted in and the 20 lap sprint race began. Trulli had gotten lucky in his positioning on track, as he managed to be near the front when the green flag dropped again. He pulled a 7 second lead over Jenson within a lap or two. Jenson was caught up lapping several cars but eventually won free. After a few laps, Rubens Barrichello pitted from P3 but, being 70 seconds ahead of P4, he kept his position.

The last 15 laps were the Trulli and Button show. Jarno and Jenson took turns swapping fast laps, but Jenson was still able to fight up onto Trulli's tail. The Renault had the advantage this race and Jenson pulled out everything just to catch up to it. It is unlikely that Button would have been able to get past Trulli. We'll never know, however, as the race ended just as Button began to get well and truly close to the Renault.

Onward to the Nurburgring for the European grand prix in a week!




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