Ralf Schumacher to drive for Toyota in 2005

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It is the worst-kept secret in Formula One, but Ralf Schumacher will be a Toyota driver in 2005. The Japanese motor giant will soon confirm that officially after months of rumour.

It is the worst-kept secret in Formula One, but Ralf Schumacher will be a Toyota driver in 2005. The Japanese motor giant will soon confirm that officially after months of rumour.

Given that the last really productive race the German drove was back in Magny-Cours last July, when his well-judged success so upset his team-mate, Juan Pablo Montoya, that the infuriated Colombian eventually took the decision to move to McLaren for the coming season, this is nevertheless something of a surprise.

The last time that Schumacher beat Montoya in the world drivers' championship was 2001; since then the Colombian has generally had the upper hand. So far this season the German has amassed only 12 points from four scoring finishes: a fourth, two sevenths, a sixth. Montoya has not had a great year either, but has double the points.

Three years ago here, however, Schumacher was busy making history. In qualifying he started from second place on the grid alongside his older brother, Michael, who was on pole, creating the first sibling front row in the sport's history. Ralf beat Michael to win that race and also set the fastest lap, at a time when Williams-BMW were a stronger challenger for Ferrari than they are at present.

The performance of this year's car, the FW26, has been a major disappointment, but Schumacher remains philosophical as he prepares to see out his time with a team he joined in 1999. He is a complex figure, frequently accused of arrogance and lack of commitment by his critics, yet capable of leading races from the front as he showed so capably in France last year. When fully fired up he can look convincing. The trouble is, as insiders at Williams have been saying for some time now, four or five really good races in a 17 or 18-race season does not win world titles.

Schumacher argues, with some justification, that the team have been inconsistent, and recently had a spat when the former technical director Patrick Head - Sir Frank Williams' shareholding partner - was quoted as making suggestions that his driver is still suffering the lingering after-effects of a serious shunt in testing at Monza last September. Schumacher excused himself from competing there after admitting in practice that he forgot to brake from more than 300 kph (186mph) for the first chicane. He was replaced by the test driver, Marc Gene, who critics suggest would have done a better job so far this year.

After their clash in the tunnel in Monaco, when Fernando Alonso spun and crashed while trying to lap Schumacher, the young Renault driver called for him to be banned.

A beleaguered Schumacher refuses to concede to his critics, and recent changes in Williams management played into his hands as Head took the role of director of engineering and the 33 year-old Australian Sam Michael succeeded him as technical director. Schumacher says he bears Head no ill will.

"Even after the accident it all went well. It is more difficult this year because we already got the best out of the existing car, so we are basically waiting for improvements from the factory. It's just with Patrick - sometimes he just goes off with himself a bit or doesn't think about what he's saying or he's very emotional about things. It's not the first time it happened to me within Williams.

"Obviously we are all under pressure, we all want to deliver, we try desperately to deliver and because of it sometimes things go a bit wrong. It should simply be down to all of us trying to get the best out of the package and trying to push hard, as I do always from my side. Going to the factory, going to BMW, speaking to people, trying to get all the information across. I am really working hard trying to turn it around. That is the way to look at it. I am not trying to blame people or whatever."

Despite all his problems, Schumacher is adamant that his future lies in Formula One. "I would consider it quite sure that I will be here next year," he says, "so that's not a problem, but obviously not where, and I will obviously try to be in the best position."

Whether Toyota will be the best position for him - or vice versa - remains to be seen.