Monza: Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won an Italian Grand Prix duel with title rival Juan Pablo Montoya on Sunday to forge three points clear of the Colombian with two races left.
Schumacher’s 50th win for the champions, at their home circuit in front of a roaring army of fans, and Montoya’s second place for Williams kept the closest and most thrilling championship in years on a knife-edge.
The German has 82 points to Montoya’s 79. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen, the third title contender, finished fourth behind Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello and has 75.
“I think this is one of the greatest days of my career,” said Schumacher. “The emotion out there was just beautiful. We won such an important race with all that has happened before and you have all that emotion out there, it’s just extraordinary.”
This was a win that all of Italy wanted and Schumacher showed, after a five-race losing streak that left Ferrari accused of being a team in crisis, that he would not be dethroned without a fight. While Schumacher remained on course for his record sixth title, he had Montoya always on his tail and can take nothing for granted.
Williams continue to lead the constructors’ standings by four points. They have 141 to champions Ferrari’s 137. McLaren are third with 120.
The fastest circuit in Formula One also produced the fastest race in Formula One history, Schumacher winning with an average speed of 247 kph and showing all his fighting spirit to keep Montoya’s Williams at bay.
Separated at times by just a fraction of a second, the two had lined up on the front row of the grid in a showdown that saw them racing wheel to wheel through the first sequence of corners.
Throwing caution to the wind, when any mistake could potentially have cost either the title, neither seemed prepared to give way. The Williams nosed ahead, edging the Ferrari towards the run-off, but Schumacher held the line.
Schumacher had not led a race for 327 laps, dating back to his last victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in June. Sunday’s win was the 69th of his career and fifth of the championship.
The top four followed the starting order and Raikkonen said it was the best he could have hoped for.
“It’s not finished until the end of the season, it’s not over,” said the 23-year-old, who could yet become Formula One’s youngest champion.
Spain’s Marc Gene, standing in for Ralf Schumacher at Williams after the German was ruled out on medical grounds, finished fifth after leading a Grand Prix for the first time in his career.
The Catalan’s fleeting moment of fame came on lap 35 after Schumacher’s second pitstop and lasted little more than a minute before he also pulled in for fuel.
Canadian Jacques Villeneuve was sixth for BAR, Australian Mark Webber seventh for Jaguar and Spaniard Fernando Alonso a remarkable eighth for Renault after starting last.
Drivers — 1. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 82 points; 2. Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) Williams 79; 3. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 75; 4. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams 58; 5. Fernando Alonso (Esp) Renault 55; 6. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 55; 7. David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren 45; 8. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Renault 24; 9. Mark Webber (Aus) Jaguar 17; 10. Jenson Button (GBR) BAR 12.
Constructors — 1. Williams 141 points; 2. Ferrari 137; 3. McLaren 120; 4. Renault 79; 5. BAR 18; 6. Jaguar 17; 7. Toyota 14; 8. Jordan 11; 9. Sauber 9; 10. Minardi 0.