Montoya departs Williams on high note

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The Independent Online

"That was one of the toughest races of my life," Juan Pablo Montoya said after winning the Brazilian Grand Prix yesterday. But tough or not, the Colombian served out his time with Williams in style with his fourth-ever success, while putting down a marker to challenger Kimi Raikkonen whom he will partner at McLaren next season.

Rain just before the start threw things into confusion. Much of the track was damp, but in his 150th and final race for McLaren, David Coulthard joined Renault's Fernando Alonso and Jacques Villeneuve in opting for dry-weather tyres as the rest of their rivals went for shallow, wet-weather rubber.

Barrichello grabbed an early lead, but Raikkonen passed him at the third corner, leaving Jenson Button, Montoya, Felipe Massa, Takuma Sato and Ralf Schumacher to fight wheel to wheel. It was great stuff, yet another reminder that every grand prix is enlivened by a wet track. But for Button the fun did not last. After dropping back to eighth place he stopped on lap four with engine failure.

As the track began to dry Barrichello retook the lead from Raikkonen, and a lap later the pits were busier than downtown Sao Paulo following mass stops for dry-weather tyres. In came Raikkonen and Montoya, followed by Sato, Jarno Trulli and, down, out of the top 10, Michael Schumacher.

While none of this did much for Coulthard or Villeneuve, it was all good for Alonso. After Massa surrendered the lead with a pit-stop on lap seven, the Renault driver was sitting pretty. Behind him, however, Raikkonen and Montoya raced each other down the pit-lane and back out on to the track, resuming their fight until the Colombian squeezed his Wiiliams ahead of the McLaren that he will drive next season. These two then ran first and second once Alonso had pitted for fuel and fresh, dry tyres on lap 18, chased by Ralf Schumacher, and further back Barrichello had it all to do.

Not as much as his team-mate, however, for Schumacher Snr had spun and lost ground on lap three. With Montoya opening up more than a five-second lead over Raikkonen, interest focused on Schumacher Jnr's pursuit of Alonso, and he found the Spaniard just as hard a nut to crack as his big brother had earlier in the race.

Hope had risen in the Renault camp with Button's early retirement, but though there was scant chance of the Anglo-French team scoring the 1-3 result it needed to have any chance of ousting BAR from second place in the constructors' championship, Alonso wasn't going to give up. Further back, there was a moment of tragic comedy on the start of the 24th lap when the two Jaguars collided in the first corner. This may prove to be the team's swansong - certainly in its current guise - and faces lengthened as rookie Christian Klien closed the door rather belatedly on Mark Webber and sent them both skittering off the track. Only Klien continued.

The final rash of pit-stops began on the 47th lap, and promoted Barrichello ahead of both Alonso and Schumacher Jnr, and then on lap 51 the German shoved his way by the Spaniard at last. His chance of a podium finish, however, was over, and a lap later Alonso returned the favour. During all this Schumacher Snr was reeling them both in. When Sato made his final stop all four of them fought nose to tail in a great battle for fourth place.

Raikkonen ran five laps further than Montoya before his final stop, and over the final laps closed to within half-a-second, but the Colombian just kept enough in hand to the chequered flag.

Barrichello achieved his first finish at home in 10 years with the final podium position, but it was not the result he had so desperately wanted. Behind him, a Brazilian flag would have covered the next four.

Brazilian Grand Prix (São Paulo) Provisional result: 1 J P Montoya (Col) Williams; 2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 3 Rubens Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 4 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Renault 5 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams 6 Takuma Sato (Japan) BAR 7 Michael Schumacher (Ge) Ferrari 8 Felipe Massa (Br) Sauber 9 Giancarlo Fisichella (It) Sauber 10 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Renault.