Juan Pablo Montoya might be hell-bent on a switch from BMW-Williams to McLarenMercedes for 2004, but here yesterday Sir Frank Williams' team gave him a car not only strong enough to withstand the searing temperatures at the German Grand Prix, but so dominant that he crushed his opposition. The Colombian finished more than a minute clear of David Coulthard - the man he could replace if the McLaren move comes off.
The victory, only his third in Formula One, moved him within six points of the local hero Michael Schumacher, who had a torrid weekend. Burned off in practice and qualifying, Schumacher had to play second fiddle to the Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso for much of the race, and just when he had fought up to second place his chances of a record sixth world crown suffered a serious dent with four laps to go when a punctured Bridgestone tyre dropped him to a seventh place finish.
"It was a perfect finish to a perfect weekend," Montoya said. "The car was excellent. I just had to be consistent, to keep the same pace all race and try not to make any mistakes. It was amazing how I could pull away and maybe because of this it was not too bad a race from the physical point of view."
The man who admits that he has no relationship with his team-mate, or his brother, could not resist adding as he was asked to consider his title chances: "Things can easily go wrong for everybody, as we have witnessed today when it happened to both of the Schumacher brothers."
Despite finding as early as the 15th lap that he only had 93 per cent movement of the throttle, and therefore lost 10kph from his top speed, Montoya was able to dominate the race. Initially he only eased away from the fast-starting Renaults and Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, once the safety car had pulled back into the pits on the fourth lap after being deployed on the first after an accident at the start involving Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen. But soon his three-stop strategy enabled him to open up a lead. He lost it to Alonso on lap 18, during his first refuelling stop, but he was so crushingly dominant that he retained the lead when he stopped again on laps 33 and 50.
Schumacher and the Renaults were all on two-stop strategies and it took the champion until lap 31 to pass Alonso, when the Spaniard momentarily ran wide going into the stadium. It was not until the 59th that Schumacher finally outfoxed Trulli by going round the outside at the hairpin. Trulli tried to hold him wide but Schumacher out-dragged him while using the Tarmac run-off area. A lap later, having steadily moved up from an initial sixth place on the opening lap, on-form David Coulthard pulled off a similar move on Trulli, even though the Italian held him wide almost for the length of the ensuing straight.
The Renault duo got a late boost, however, when Schumacher's tyre failed on the 63rd lap.
For Coulthard, second place was a much-needed fillip. "My car was well balanced for most of the race, apart from when the tyres were new after each stop," the Scot said. "So when Michael and Jarno got problems with their tyres I was able to attack."
A philosophical Schumacher merely said: "Obviously I am disappointed to finish only seventh after a tough race which could have brought me eight points."
While Montoya celebrated, Schumacher Jnr suffered a double blow which proved that the bad luck on this circuit was not the exclusive preserve of his big brother. Slow away at the start, he moved to the left to defend his entry to the first corner against a challenge from the British Grand Prix winner Barrichello, and ended up pinching the Brazilian into a collision with Raikkonen. Barrichello and Raikkonen retired immediately, while Schumacher limped only as far as the pits before retiring with heavy left-hand sidepod damage. The incident may yet prove to have a catastrophic effect on the championship aspirations of all three drivers. It also accounted for the Jaguar debutant Justin Wilson, who hit Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda in the ensuing chain reaction, and Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Ralph Firman after the latter ran into the back of the former.
Having been forced to watch his team-mate dominate the race, Schumacher Jnr then received another body blow when the race stewards decided to penalise him 10 grid positions on him at the next race, on the basis that he caused an avoidable collision. Since this will be imposed at the Hungaroring in Budapest, where overtaking is almost as difficult as it is on the streets of Monaco, it will be another devastating blow to his title aspirations. BMW-Williams indicated that they intend to appeal.
1 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW
1hr 28min 48.769sec
(average speed 207.038 kph/128.675mph)
2 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
3 J Trulli (It) Renault 1.29:57.829
4 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1.29:58.113
5 O Panis (Fr) Toyota +1 lap
6 C Da Matta (Br) Toyota +1 lap
7 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari +1 lap
8 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda +1
9 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda +2; 10 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas +2; 11 M Webber (Aus) Jaguar +3; 12 N Kiesa (Den) Minardi-Cosworth +5 laps; 13 G Fisichella (It) Jordan-Cosworth +7.
Did not finish: J Verstappen (Neth) Minardi-Cosworth 23 laps completed; J Wilson (GB) Jaguar 6 laps; R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 1 lap; H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Petronas 1 lap; R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 0 laps; K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 0 laps; R Firman (GB) Jordan-Cosworth 0 laps
MANUFACTURERS' CHAMPIONSHIP: 1 Ferrari 120; 2 Williams-BMW 118; 3 McLaren-Mercedes 103; 4 Renault 66; 5 BAR-Honda 15; 6 Toyota 14; 7 Jaguar 12; 8 Jordan-Cosworth 11; 9 Sauber-Petronas 9.Reuse content