OCTOBER 21, 2003
Ralf Schumacher and Williams
The talks between Williams and Ralf Schumacher are dragging on as the two parties negotiate over the extension of Schumacher's contract beyond the end of 2004. Although a deal is believed to have been quite close some months ago, Schumacher's performances in recent races have not warranted the kind of money that was being discussed and with the driver market being in favor of the team at the moment, there is little doubt that Williams is trying to push down the price being asked by Schumacher.
The team expects to lose Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of 2004 and has been unable to put together a deal with Mark Webber, who looks to be on his way to Renault in 2005 unless a way out can be found. Williams is thus left looking for alternatives and the conclusion appears to be that there are not many drivers out there capable of beating Michael Schumacher - even in a better car. With Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Webber all apparently tied to contracts until 2007, the options for Williams are to go for a known quantity driver such as Rubens Barrichello, who will be free from his Ferrari contract at the end of 2004, or to try to see if someone like Jenson Button can get out of his BAR contract for 2005. The other option is to take a risk and go for an unknown youngster from Formula 3000 (the obvious choices being Giorgio Pantano and Vitantonio Liuzzi) or to look even further to Formula 3.
Williams has long had a policy of using its available money to build the best cars and supply them to cheap drivers and this has resulted in several drivers departing Williams as World Champions. In recent years however Schumacher and Montoya have been paid large sums of money but neither has delivered the title, both having made far too many mistakes this year. BMW would like to see a German driver in the team but accepts that the decision rests with Williams.
There is no rush to conclude a deal for 2005 and Williams may be content to wait and watch to see how the driver market develops.
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