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Rivals bring out best in Williams and McLaren 25 Oct 2004

2005 McLaren team mates Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams and Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren 
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Brazil, 24 October 2004 (L to R): Sam Michael (AUS) Williams Technical Director with Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams and Patrick Head (GBR) Williams Technical Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Suzuka, Japan, 8 October 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW26 gets sideways.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Brazil, 22 October 2004 The podium (L to R): Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari, second; race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren; Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari, third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 29 August 2004 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/19B.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monza, Italy, 11 September 2004

Williams’ victory at Interlagos on Sunday marked the culmination of a remarkable revival in the team’s fortunes. Both they and McLaren looked incapable of race wins early in the season, but both fought back to take victories late in the year.

Williams finished on the podium twice in the first four races, but then entered something of a drought as they battled to make the walrus-nosed FW26 work. With traditional rivals McLaren also struggling, Renault and BAR unexpectedly moved ahead in the pursuit of Ferrari.

The distinctive Williams front end was ditched for a more conventional design mid season, but the team were dealt a real blow with Ralf Schumacher’s crash at Indianapolis. He was out for six races, and despite sterling efforts from replacements Marc Gene and Antonio Pizzonia, his development skills were sorely missed.

Ralf was back in the cockpit for China and a strong second place in Japan followed to prove Williams were finally back on track - a point then undeniably rammed home by Montoya’s cool and calculated victory over Kimi Raikkonen at Interlagos.

“This was a great relief for the team after a long and tough season,” said Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director. “I am proud of our team's recovery from a difficult situation and we have now come back to former strengths.”

McLaren have also responded remarkably well to Ferrari’s domination and the new threat from BAR and Renault. Their start to the season was even more difficult than Williams’, with just five points from the first seven races. The comeback began at Silverstone, with the introduction of the revised MP4-19B and the team’s first podium of 2004.

The McLaren revival reached its peak at Spa, with Kimi Raikkonen’s convincing victory over Michael Schumacher. And in Brazil, the Finn pushed Montoya all the way, with Ferrari, BAR and Renault all struggling to stay in touch with the two British teams.

“It's been a tough season but it shows the depth and strength of the entire team that we were able turn things around and challenge for victories,” said McLaren boss Ron Dennis. “We now look forward to 2005 where we want to start the season in a strong position with Kimi and Juan Pablo.”

Williams and McLaren finished fourth and fifth respectively in the 2004 championship - lowly positions by their own high standards. However, after their performances in Brazil, neither will be expecting to be so far down the order next season.