Montoya hands team the perfect parting gift
It has been a long time coming, and there was no mistaking the air of relief in the Williams camp on Sunday after Juan Pablo Montoya won the Brazilian Grand Prix and Ralf Schumacher finished fifth, adding 14 points to the teams tally at the end of a difficult season.
The result clinched their fourth place in the constructors championship, despite the threat from McLaren that saw Montoya's 2005 team mate Kimi Raikkonen run superbly to challenge the Colombian all the way to the flag at Interlagos.
In conditions that this time favoured Michelin, once the initially wet track had dried out, Williams and McLaren slogged it out just like they did in the old days. Only David Coulthard struggling along after electing to start on dry tyres in the wet, and eventually finishing a lapped 11th detracted from the silver arrows day.
It was a fight of champions and Juan Pablo produced a drive which was a fitting way to end his stay with us, Sir Frank Williams said. Im truly sorry hes going elsewhere but am very happy for him and us that he won so well today.
Behind them, Ferrari had to be content with Rubens Barrichellos distant third place, after the Brazilian led twice in the early going. The Brazilian gave it his all, but that was the best he could do on the day.
Further back, Michael Schumacher kept paying the price for his Saturday morning shunt, and after jumping up six places on the opening lap he didnt help himself by spinning on lap three. After that he pushed hard and tacked on to the end of the fight for fourth place, but just couldnt do anything about Fernando Alonso, Takuma Sato or brother Ralf as they raced nose to tail in the final laps. Ferrari left South America feeling philosophical, but could console themselves with a record sixth consecutive constructors championship, Michaels seventh drivers title, and a healthy 262 points, more than double that of runner-up BAR.
The latter had a mixed final race, which they had so hoped to win. Jenson Button was in the thick of the early fighting, but faded as his engine went off song and blew on lap four. Sato clung on for a gritty sixth, annoyed to have lost out to Ralf Schumacher with two laps to run. In the end, Renault boosted their score to 105, but with 119, BAR remained a conclusive second overall. A fabulous result.
Third overall for Renault was an honourable result, and Fernando Alonso drove his heart out all afternoon on his way to a thoroughly well deserved fourth place. He took that bold decision to start on dries, ran strongly on them, and then reaped the benefit as the track dried. And he fought every inch of the way.
Team mate Jacques Villeneuve was also happy, having all but matched Alonsos pace and he became more and more confident in his car as the race progressed. He, of course, heads for Sauber next year, and hopes were high there after Felipe Massas excellent qualifying performance. The Brazilian was right in the thick of the early fighting even after losing time when Barrichello was cautious and he momentarily got trapped behind him. He recovered well, and led the seventh lap before his first pit stop. Giancarlo Fisichella got pushed off on lap one and had to fight back, and eventually they had to be content with eighth and ninth places.
Jaguar ultimately won their private battle with Toyota, even though both cars collided in a nightmare situation in the first corner on lap 24 when Christian Klien shut the door on Mark Webber. The Austrian finished 14th after pitting for a new front wing; Webber retired on the spot. It was a sad end to Jaguar Racing. In 12th and 13th places, Toyota drivers Jarno Trulli and Ricardo Zonta did the best that they could. The same went for Jordans Timo Glock and the Minardi drivers.
So the season is over, and all the cards have been dealt. For Ferrari it was another brilliant year of triumph, but BAR and Renault achieved great things, and McLaren and Williams each won a race just when it seemed neither would.
Roll on 2005!