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Despite winning pole position on Saturday with an extraordinary new lap record, Williams/BMW personnel from the drivers on down had played down their prospects of challenging Ferrari in today's Italian Grand Prix. They turned out to be right, although their chances were ruined faster than even the most pessimistic among them mioght have guessed.

Williams' hopes of putting an end to Ferrari's dominance were dead after just five laps at Monza. Rubens Barrichello went on to lead his teammate Michael Schumacher to another crushing 1-2 in front of the Scuderia's adoring home fans.

It was Ralf Schumacher who made the best start from third place on the grid as teammate and polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya made a sluggish getaway. The Colombian flicked right to block Michael Schumacher, allowing Ralf to pull up alongside him on the run into the first chicane. For a moment, it looked like the BMW-powered cars were going to clash, but Ralf avoided that embarrassment by cutting the chicane.

He missed the speed bumps designed to stop drivers getting away with such a move and emerged in the lead ahead of Montoya and Barrichello, who was already ahead of his team leader.

Barrichello wasted no time putting Montoya under pressure, as Ralf enjoyed what would be a short-lived lead. On the fifth lap he slowed right up going into the Parabolica with whisps of tell-tale smoke trailing from his BMW V10.

Back in the pits, the German revealed that his first chicane chop at the start would have been the cause of the type of controversy predicted by Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn before the race. Williams had been told by the stewards to order Ralf to wave Montoya into the lead, otherwise the former would be penalized. As far as Ralf was concerned, it was a "strange" call, but he had already slowed to do so when his engine let go.

Montoya's lead was even more short-lived than his teammate's. Barrichello was glued to his tail as they passed Ralf into Parabolica and the Ferrari slipped through on the run to the first chicane.

At the second chicane on the same lap Montoya missed his braking and ran through the gravel, allowing Michael Schumacher to close in. As they started the sixth lap, the World Champion swept around the outside of the Williams to take second place. From that point on, Ferrari was home and dry.

The only interest at the front from that point was Ferrari's strategy. As Barrichello sprinted away it was clear that the Brazilian was on a two-stopper while Schumacher would only pit once.

After Schumacher had made his single pit visit, Barrichello opened up a big enough lead to stay ahead after his second stop. He had around 27sec in hand when he came in on lap 37. Barrichello sprinted back out of the pits and just held onto the lead into the first corner, and that settled the order of Ferrari's 1-2.

In reality, it is unlikely we had not been watching a strategy duel. Ferrari drivers don't race each other these days and the "battle" appeared to be closely controlled by the team throughout. Both drivers backed off in the closing stages, meaning that any chance of beating the 31-year-old record for the fastest ever GP would be gone too. Rubens wasn't worried - he just wanted that fourth GP win of his career (and third of the current season).

Montoya's third place was lost by broken front suspension caused by his earlier error at the second chicane. Cutting across the gravel damaged one of his barge boards and on lap 32, Montoya pitted with his right-front wheel pointed up in the air. There was no option but to call it a day.

That would have left Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren in third, had the Finn's Mercedes engine not blown up for a fifth time in a race this season. So, Eddie Irvine's Jaguar, which had backed up its test promise by qualifying sixth, was left in third.

On lap 40, he actually lost third to the brilliant Olivier Panis, who passed him into the Parabolica corner. But having started a lowly 16th, the BAR ace was on a two-stop strategy and had to pit for a second time. His point for sixth place was well deserved.

But Panis' excellent drive was eclipsed by Jarno Trulli's. The Renault driver suffered a problem getting off the grid for the formation lap and instead of starting 11th, the Italian lined up at the back.

Trulli made a fantastic start and was 12th at the end of the first lap. His drive was combined with a clever strategy from his team which chose to bring in Jarno and teammate Jenson Button early for their single stops. That left them in fourth and fifth in the closing stages, and it eventually became clear that they had enough fuel to run through to the end.

David Coulthard finished out of the points in seventh after losing his front wing on the first lap. His comeback drive, which included passing Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan in the closing stages, showed that he should have scored points.

Fellow Scot Allan McNish had even more reason to rue his luck. The Toyota driver made a great start from 13th on the grid to hold seventh at the end of the first lap, which became sixth with Ralf Schumacher's retirement. But on lap 12 he pitted with a broken right-front suspension, and was forced to call it a day. McNish was on a one-stop strategy, too, so the chances for his first Formula 1 points were more than good.

Pedro de la Rosa was left fuming after a clash with Sauber's Felipe Massa. The Brazilian passed the Jaguar into Ascari, but the left-front of the R3 caught the right-rear of the Sauber under braking. De la Rosa limped into retirement with a puncture and broken suspension and Massa retired a lap later at the same point when his right-rear tire went down and sent him through the gravel trap.

The Italian GP was no thriller. But the Ferrari team's beloved tifosi would not have cared how thrilling or dull this race was. All they wanted was a result like this to give them reason to celebrate Ferrari's incredible season. They went home well satisfied.

Italian Grand Prix results:

1) Rubens Barrichello, Marlboro/Vodafone Ferrari, 53 laps, 1h16m19.982s
2) Michael Schumacher, Marlboro/Vodafone Ferrari, 53, 1h16m20.237s
3) Eddie Irvine, HSBC Jaguar/Cosworth, 53, 1h17m12.561s
4) Jarno Trulli, Mild Seven Renault, 53, 1h17m18.201s
5) Jenson Button, Mild Seven Renault, 53, 1h17m07.752s
6) Olivier Panis, Lucky Strike BAR/Honda, 53, 1h17m28.473s
7) David Coulthard, West McLaren/Mercedes, 53, 1h17m29.029s
8) Giancarlo Fisichella, DHL Jordan/Honda, 53, 1h17m30.873s
9) Jacques Villeneuve, Lucky Strike BAR/Honda, 53, 1h17m41.050s
10) Nick Heidfeld, Red Bull Sauber/Petronas, 53, 1h17m42.028s
11) Mika Salo, Panasonic Toyota, 52
12) Takuma Sato, DHL Jordan/Honda, 52
13) Alex Yoong, KL Minardi/Asiatech, 47
14) Juan Pablo Montoya, Compaq Williams/BMW, 33, suspension
15) Kimi Raikkonen, West McLaren/Mercedes, 29, engine
16) Mark Webber, KL Minardi/Asiatech, 20, mechanical
17) Felipe Massa, Red Bull Sauber/Petronas, 16, accident
18) Pedro de la Rosa, BSDC Jaguar/Cosworth, 15, accident
19) Allan McNish, Panasonic Toyota, 13, suspension
20) Ralf Schumacher, Compaq Williams/BMW, 4, engine
 
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