Ralf Schumacher, as everyone suspected, is off to Toyota next season after what will be six years with Williams at the end of 2004. The German debuted in Formula One with Jordan in 1997 and in 1999 he moved to Williams. He finished in the points...
Ralf Schumacher, as everyone suspected, is off to Toyota next season after what will be six years with Williams at the end of 2004. The German debuted in Formula One with Jordan in 1997 and in 1999 he moved to Williams. He finished in the points every race bar one, including three podiums, and was sixth overall in the drivers' championship. It was a good start to his career with Williams.
In 2000 Schumacher improved one place to fifth in the standings at the end of the year and in 2001 he took his first F1 victory, at Imola -- the first win for the team since 1997. Schumacher took two more wins that season, Montreal and Hockenheim, and finished fourth overall in the championship.
He retained the position in 2002, with one win on his score sheet, and although he took two victories in 2003 he was forced to sit out the Italian GP after a heavy crash during testing at Monza. That lost his championship hopes and he dropped to fifth in the standings -- but still finished the season with more points than ever before.
2004 has been difficult for Williams so far and Schumacher had only scored 12 points before crashing out of the American GP. The nasty accident resulted in two fractured vertebrae and Ralf is now out of action until at least September. Toyota announced on July 7th that it has signed Schumacher, starting in 2005, on a three-year contract.
"Ralf has made a steadfast contribution to the team over the past five years, with some truly spectacular high points," said team principal Frank Williams. "We fully respect his decision to pursue his future career with another team, and we wish him well in his new endeavours."
BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen added: "Continuity is of course a factor for success in the fast business of Formula One. This is also true for the driver line-up. But, by the end of 2004, Ralf Schumacher will have been at WilliamsF1 for six years. It is therefore quite normal for a driver to think about a change."
"Following long and intensive negotiations between Frank Williams and Ralf Schumacher, both sides have decided not to renew the contract for the period after 2004. If both sides seek a new challenge, it should understandably be taken. We were kept informed about the negotiations throughout."
Of course, with Schumacher's departure, Williams now needs two race drivers for next season, as Juan Pablo Montoya is leaving for McLaren. The speculation will no doubt be intense until a line up is confirmed. Mark Webber is a favourite but by no means certain -- yet -- and the second seat could be just about anyone...