In a sport renowned for its pace, McLaren's announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya will be joining them in 2005 has been a long time coming.
The 26-year-old Colombian, winner of the Monaco and German Grands Prix for Williams-BMW in 2003, decided at the French race in July to look elsewhere. Incensed by team tactics he believed allowed his team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, to win he allegedly told his team over the radio that they were all incompetent, though he used rather more colourful language.
His new deal to join McLaren-Mercedes from the 2005 season was agreed in August at Hockenheim, where Montoya completely dominated the race to live up to all the performance expectations that Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head had developed while using him as a test driver in the late 1990s as he raced in America's Indycar series. Such was their faith that although the rookie Jenson Button impressed in his maiden season with them in 2000, they were prepared to let him go to make sure of getting Montoya for 2001.
Normally when somebody chooses to leave Williams, they do so without delay. But Montoya has another season on his Williams contract, which means that 2004 may not be the most comfortable for either Montoya or the team. BMW are livid at losing a star to their rival, Mercedes-Benz.
That may be a small price to pay, however, for it is likely that Montoya will double his $6m (£3.55m) salary to join Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren.
Williams did not want to pay him big money, especially after the driving errors Montoya made in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Indianapolis this season. There were plans to secure his release from Williams for 2004, but these have foundered. That at least throws David Coulthard a lifeline and should confirm his final season with McLaren.
He is believed to have inked a final one-year "step aside if necessary" deal, which guarantees him his $10m salary even if McLaren opt to replace him during the forthcoming season. Beyond 2004, his future is uncertain, and, after 10 and a half years, retirement may beckon.
Commenting on signing Montoya, the McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis, said: "We want to win races and world championships, and in order to do so we have to plan for the future while applying every effort in the short-term. The opportunity to sign a talent like Juan Pablo was too good to miss."
For the first time since the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, which ended in tears in 1989, McLaren will have two superstars in its cars. But if Raikkonen is concerned, he is hiding it well. "It'll be interesting to see what happens," the Finn said. "The team-mate I have doesn't change anything on my side of the team. We do exactly the same sort of things what we have been doing so far. I just try to beat my team-mate, whoever it is."
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