Formula one, 2001 season Italian Grand Prix at Monza: The Race: the jpoc report

Sunday morning's warm up saw the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher at the top of the timesheets. That was not a surprise and it was also no surprise to see a McLaren show better in the warm up than in the qualifying hour. Coulthard was second fastest ahead of Montoya and Barrichello the two men on the front row of the grid.

Although the warmup was conducted in sunshine, it was cold and, with the exception of the two Williams, the Michelin runners were all clustered together in the lower half of the grid. Clearly, the track temperature in the afternoon was going to be the key to the race fortunes of the Williams drivers.

In the time before the race itself, there was a strong movement for a gentlemen's agreement at the start. The idea would be that there would be no overtaking from the start line to the exit of the second chicane on the first lap.

Whether this was for the benefit of safety or for those drivers at the front of the grid who were planning on starting with a heavy fuel load for one stop strategies was not made clear but one thing was obvious. If you are going to have a gentlemen's agreement, you need a bunch of gentlemen or it will not work. Now, I do not want to cast aspersions but millions of F1 fans do not watch the television every other weekend to see a bunch of gentlemen discussing the merits of the '99 first growth Bordeaux that they have in their cellars.

The first pass at this idea garnered agreement from all of the drivers bar one. Jacques Villeneuve was the man holding out against the deal. Favio Briatore and Tom Walkinshaw, heads of the Benetton/Renault and Arrows teams both instructed their drivers that their job was to race. F1 promotor Bernie Ecclestone said that it would be better if the chicanes were to be removed but he did not support the call for the race to be started under a no overtaking regime.

Michael Schumacher made a final, one on one, appeal to each driver on the grid but in the end it was clear that the decision would by no means be supported by all of the drivers.

As the final preparations were made for the dummy grid, two teams were hurridly readying spare cars. Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld were going to have to start the race from the pit lane. The rest of the cars made it round the parade lap without incident and then, when the red lights went out and the race started, it was completely clear that Jenson Button was party to no gentlemen's agreement. He shot right, away from the grid and over to the empty part of the track and started to make up places on the field.

Button made it up as far as Trulli by the time that the cars reached the first chicane. Then he punted the Jordan into a spin losing his own front wing in the process. Mika Hakkinen got tangled up in the chicane too and had to take the scenic route up the escape road and a number of other cars resorted to the grren painted out-of-bounds section of the tarmac. Up at the front, Montoya was leading from Barrichello and the two Schumachers were side by side up the straight heading towards the Lesmo bends.

Ralf had just scrambled ahead of his brother at the first chicane but Michael had the inside on the run up to the Lesmos. Ralf squeezed his brother pretty hard but fairly and the Ferrari was past on the inside of the first Lesmo bend. At Spa, we had seen Ferrari beat Williams in the drag up the hill and here, the same was happening. At Spa, the reason was that the Williams was carrying wet wing settings which call for a lot of downforce and thus drag. That seemed unlikely to be the case at Monza and so presumably the Williams cars were carrying a much higher fuel load than the Ferraris.

At Spa, the Michelin tyres had suffered less wear than the Bridgestones so perhaps it was possible that Williams were on a one stop strategy. If so, one key to success in that is to be ahead of your rivals in the opening laps so that you do not lose out to their better performance with less fuel load. That was working out better for Montaya, who ended the first lap in the lead, than for his team mate, who was in fourth behind Barrichello and Michael Schumacher and dropping back.

Behind them were Coulthard, de la Rosa, Irvine, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Alesi, Villeneuve, Bernoldi, Frentzen, Panis, Hakkinen, Alonso, Enge, Heidfeld, Fisichella and Button. The two Jaguar drivers benefitted by staying out of trouble through the first chicane but Jos Verstappen was performing his now routine first lap miracle by pasing nine cars on the road in the course of the first kilometer.

On the second lap, Bernoldi passed Villeneuve and Fisichella passed Heidfeld but at the front, a pattern was beginning to develop. Montoya and the two Ferraris were close together and they were beginning to open a gap to Ralf Schumacher. Coulthard was already pretty much on his own unable to keep up with the top four but well clear of the midfield gaggle.

Over the next six laps, Eddie Irvine began a sad slide down the field and ended up last to all but Minardi debutant Alex Yoong. He was eventually to retire with an engine problem but not before similar troubles took care of both Button and Coulthard. Pedro de la Rosa also began a slide down the field. This was not due to a mechanical fault but the fact that he was on a single pit stop and was carrying enough fuel to cover two thirds of the race distance. Verstappen, Raikkonen and Alesi all passed him and this put Jos up into fifth place at the end of lap seven. Not bad for a man who qualified nineteenth.

All this time, Barrichello was right behing Montoya but not really looking as though he could find a way past until on lap nine when Montoya seemed to loose some momentum exiting the second chicane and Barrichello was able to pull alongside and then past to take the lead. Rubens was carrying a lot less fuel than Juan Pablo and he began to establish a gap back to the Williams while Michael Schumacher tucked in behind Montoya without really looking as though he was going to try to pass.

Rubens now set about posting fastest laps while Montoya concentrated on staying ahead of the second Ferrari. While Schumacher was not exactly harrying the Williams, he was close enough that Montoya was under pressure and on lap 12, the Colombian slid across the out-of-bounds area at the second chicane.

Montoya and Michael Schumacher then had an exciting view as they rounded the second Lesmo. Alex Yoong had just been lapped by the leader and the second and third placed men were closing in when the Malaysian spun right in front of them. The avoided his Minardi and he got going again but it was an exicting moment for all concerned.

By the time that the two-stoppers came up to make their first pit stops, Alesi had worked his way past Raikkonen and Verstappen for fifth place and Hakkinen had just made it back into the top ten after his first lap woes at the chicane. Later on the same lap, Raikkonen passed Verstappen in an outbraking move on the inside at the entry to the parabolica.

Alonso was the first to make a routine stop on lap 17 and on the next lap, Michael Schumacher and Jos Verstappen both stopped. The Ferrari mechanics were kept busy as Barrichello came in for his first stop on the next round and just as his move on Montoya ten laps earlier could have made the race, his pit stop was the real decider. Trouble with his refualling rig meant a scrabble around to swap the hose and the seconds ticked by. It cost Rubens about seven seconds in the end and when he came out onto the track, the two Williams were ahead of the two Ferraris and the top four cars all had one more pit stop each to make.

Verstappen's pit stop worked out poorly on the road and he dropped eight places though he made one of those back right away when Mika Hakkinen pulled off and retired with transmission failure at the first chicane.

De la Rosa made back the places he dropped when Verstappen, Alesi and Raikkonen made their stops and that put him back into fifth place. He was on a single stop strategy as was Jacques Villeneuve who took sixth place as a result of the same batch of stops. While Alesi just dropped to seventh place, Raikkonen's mechanics had problems with his right rear wheel and a longer than necessary stop dropped him back to 13th.

The one stop men began to make their pit visits on lap 27, just after half distance and this period saw the last two mechanical failures of the race. Verstappen and then Frentzen retired as Bernoldi, Yoong, Montoya and Heidfeld all pitted. The most important aspect of that was that Montoya dropped behind Ralf and Rubens but he was still ahead of Micahel Schumacher.

Three laps later, Alesi became the first man to make his second stop. Panis and Enge made their single stops on the same lap and Villeneuve, de la Rosa and Ralf Schumacher had yet to make their single stops.

The gaps behind the top four were such that when de la Rosa and Villeneuve pitted, they did not lose places but when Ralf Schumacher pitted, he dropped from first to fourth. That left the Ferraris in first and third but, unlike the Williams cars, they had still to make their final pit stops. That they did on the forty and forty first laps and that put the oder back to Juan Pablo, Ralf, Rubens and Michael and, with one brave exception, that was it until the finish.

The exception was Rubens Barrichello who closed down on and started to harry Ralf Schumacher. With six laps to go, Ralf scabbled onto the green stuff at the first chicane, Rubens went by and that was it. Yoong had another moment of excitement and the second Lesmo from which he failed to recover and Bernoldi got into trouble at the second chicane and that was the end of his race.

The closing laps held little interest. Barrichello closed on Montoya as the leader eased but there was no prospect of Ruebens doing anything about Montoya. South America one and two. The brothers Schumacher three and four.

Montoya's first win was a well deserved affair. It was clear from the first race of the year that it would come soon and it might even have come sooner. The only thing that it lacked was the opportunity to celebrate. The events in the US together with the ghastly accident which befell Juan Pablo's close friend Zanardi in Germany the day before dampened the mood and the podium ceremony was sombre.

Juan Pablo Montoya would surely have the opportunity to spray the winners champagne soon though.

Williams fourteen points put McLaren under real pressure in the constructor's championship and Rubens' second place did the same for Coulthards hopes of coming second in the driver's championship.

Further down the field, Yoong and Enge both achieved tidy debuts and will doubtless be seen in many more F1 races.

F1 provided and interesting and entertaining race and delivered it with the dignity that was required of the occasion.

The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Tyre news
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Who drives what?
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Which engine goes where?
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Business and politics
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Teams and personnel
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Circuit news
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Setting the scene
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Prospects for the race
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Practice and qualifying
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September The starting grid
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Results
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Championship standings after the race
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