Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya is moving from BMW Williams to McLaren Mercedes for the 2005 Formula One season, giving McLaren a driver lineup to rival Ferrari.

Montoya, 28, is likely to team up at McLaren with Kimi Raikkonen, 24, who finished just two points behind season champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari. Montoya was third.

"I am thrilled to be joining team McLaren Mercedes," the Colombian driver said. "The team is consistently a strong world championship contender and has a fantastic heritage.

"It's a great opportunity for me and I'm really looking forward to the first time I will be able to drive one of their cars. To join them is an amazing challenge and experience which I plan to fully enjoy."

Montoya is under contract with Williams through next season, but reports earlier this year suggested the Colombian might try to get out of the remaining year of his contract.

Montoya could also choose to sit out the season with Williams. His move to McLaren threatens Scotsman David Coulthard, who is the team's No. 2 driver behind Finland's Raikkonen. Coulthard would almost certainly move to a lesser team like Jaguar or Jordan.

Williams spokesman Liam Clogger said he expected Montoya to be with Williams next season. Team director Frank Williams declined to comment.

"Frank is not going to add any comment," Clogger said. "It simply represents confirmation of speculation that has been around for a while. There is no detail we can offer beyond that."

The Colombian could get a big pay raise at McLaren. He is reportedly paid about $2.5 million annually at Williams, far less than the reported $12 million earned by teammate Ralf Schumacher.

Montoya has three victories in F-1 — two this season in Monaco and Germany. He won the Italian Grand Prix in his rookie year.

Williams test driver Marc Gene of Spain would be among the favourites to take Montoya's spot if he leaves. Ferrari No. 2 Rubens Barrichello and Nelson Piquet Jr. are also being mentioned.

"We want to win races and world championships and, in order to do so, we have to plan for the future while applying every effort in the short term," said McLaren team director Ron Dennis.

"The opportunity to sign a talent like Juan Pablo was too good to miss, and there is every considerable amount of anticipation within our team for 2005."

Norbert Haug, vice-president at Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, also welcomed the Colombian.

"Juan Pablo has become well established in international motor racing within a short time and will fit well into our team," Haug said.

Montoya won the Formula 3000 title in 1998, took the American-based CART series in 1999 and won the Indy 500 in 2000 in his first try. He finished sixth in the overall Forumla One standings in 2001 and was third the last two years.

Late in the 2003 season Williams acknowledged Montoya was considering a move.

"Juan has a contract with this company until the end of '04," Williams said. "After that it is an open market. We'd love to see him stay with us forever, but I repeat it is an open market and other teams, including McLaren we believe, are after him."