Ralf Schumacher has announced that he is to leave Toyota at the end of the current Formula 1 season.

The 32-year-old, who has driven for Toyota for the past three seasons, has endured a difficult season with the Cologne-based outfit and has scored points on only three occasions - with a best finish of sixth in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Now he will seek a new challenge after admitted that the expectations he had had on moving to Toyota from Williams hadn't been met.

"Having been a Toyota driver in the past three years, I opted for looking for a new challenge," he said. "I joined Toyota with high expectations. On the one hand, I regarded it as a major and exciting challenge to be involved in the development of a new racing car. On the other hand, I also learned to like the Japanese style of living, during my long stay in Japan before entering Formula 1. And I still get on well with the Japanese mentality. But I am waiting for years for a competitive car.

"Toyota also was a nice and interesting experience - particularly the cooperation with the team, engineers and mechanics. Still, it's time now to look for a new challenge."

Schumacher added that he remains totally committed to the team for the final two races of the season - in China and Brazil - and said he will hopes to announce where his future lies once the season draws to a close.

"It goes without saying that I'm extremely motivated when it comes to racing at Shanghai and Sao Paulo," he said. "I will give my very best to at least finish the mulled season on a high, with and for Toyota.

"I'm going to have several conversations in the coming weeks and I will announce my decision [regarding the future] when the season is over. For me, the financial aspect is far less important than the chance of being involved in the development of a car and being successful afterwards."

Exactly where Schumacher will line up next season remains to be seen, with the majority of the leading seats having already been filled and many of the top teams unlikely to take a chance on a driver who many believe has been given ample chance to succeed in F1.

In the paddock, the only realistic seats available would therefore appear to be at Spyker, Super Aguri and Williams - although Super Aguri has already expressed a desire to retain both Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato if possible and Williams may not be willing to take the German back following his acrimonious exit at the end of 2004.

It also begs the question of who will come in to replace Schumacher, with Felipe Massa seemingly now out of the question after both the Brazilian and Ferrari denied that there was any chance of him moving on at the end of the season - despite earlier reports that Massa and his management had been seen in talks with Toyota earlier in the season.

Newly crowned GP2 champion Timo Glock could be one possibility if Toyota wished to retain a German driver, while rumours in Italy suggest that a shock switch for Heikki Kovalainen could be in the offing - with Renault reportedly eager to welcome back Fernando Alonso back from McLaren if the Spaniard elects to leave.

Alonso himself had said prior to the Japanese Grands Prix that he planned to stay with McLaren next season although the Spaniard has since been quoted as telling Spanish radio station SER that he'd be "delighted" not to carry on alongside Lewis Hamilton next season and it would be great if he could have a good car and not be together with the young Briton.

A move for Alonso would be dependent on Renault freeing up a seat for its former star, although team boss Flavio Briatore has denied making an offer to Toyota to take the Kovalainen off his hands to make it possible.

"Personally I've made no offer, so maybe it was Bruno Michel who manages FBB [Briatore's management company]," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "We're waiting for certain situations to develop and Heikki is being kept informed of what is going on. He hasn't been a failure. For me Kovalainen and Rosberg have been the revelations of the year."

 

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