Ralf Schumacher, or even Juan Pablo Montoya, for world champion? Williams – and not McLaren – have become the most likely candidates to dethrone Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, comments CAR deputy editor John Bentley.

Ralf Schumacher – or even Juan Pablo Montoya – for world champion? Such an outcome looked highly unlikely earlier in the season as Williams struggled with their new car and insiders at engine-suppliers BMW suggested they might sever their ties with the Grove team.

Now, after strenuous efforts to get their development programme back on track, significant tyre advances by Michelin, and confirmation of the extension of the deal with BMW, wily old Frank’s boys – and not McLaren – have become the most likely candidates to dethrone Ferrari and Michael Schumacher.

Even so, one has to admire the way in which Michael and Maranello always manage to maximise the outcome when things aren’t going as well as they would like.

In qualifying at Magny Cours Schumacher slotted his car into third on the grid, absolutely the best he could have done in the situation. And, in the race, clever strategy helped the number one Ferrari steal the final podium slot from current points rival Kimi Raïkkönen.

In fact, after an engine failure while leading the previous race at the Nürburgring, followed by a finish behind Schumacher in France, Raïkkönen’s campaign looks in danger of fading. The problem is being compounded by uncertainty over when (if at all this season) McLaren’s new car is going to début, and whether it will be an improvement.

New car or not, Woking needs to take a significant step forward if the Finn is to stay in the title battle.

A big tyre test in Barcelona between now and the British Grand Prix will be crucial for all the contenders, but especially Ferrari and Bridgestone, who need to sort out their tyre woes, and McLaren, who have to find more speed.

The session is the last chance for those playing catch-up before the midsummer test moratorium, instituted to give the back-up teams a holiday break, which kicks in after Hockenheim. Any problems that go unsolved in the next week or so are likely to hang around until after the Hungarian Grand Prix. – John Bentley

Original article from Car