Button May Push Montoya Out Of F1 Seat
April 27, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Buttonmania may mean Montoya is battling a rival he cannot beat on the track. When the Colombian came to the CART FedEx Championship Series as a rookie last year, he was almost certain to take the second seat at the Williams BMW Formula One team in 2001. Montoya, a test driver for Williams, came to Target Chip Ganassi by way of the deal that sent Alex Zanardi to Williams.
While it's generally known that Montoya has a three-year contract with Ganassi, it's likely that the deal is a two-year deal with the third year (2001) as an option. Whose option is yet to be determined.
Winning the CART championship as a rookie, coupled with the failure of Zanardi to make a successful transition back to his old series, just about cinched Montoya's early entry into Formula One, right?
That is until Williams chose the right Button, Jenson that is, for this year's line-up.
All the wags in the paddock said this year would be a building year for the team due to the return of the German motor manufacturer. Of course, Button would be only an interim driver and Montoya would step into a "developed" package.
Two things changed this scenario. First, even if the BMW isn't the equal of the Mercedes-Benz powered McLarens or Ferraris, it's no slouch. Neither is the twenty year-old Button. Scoring points in his second race, even it was due to another driver's disqualification, put him on everybody's radarscope.
By the time the British Grand Prix rolled into Silverstone, the hype surrounding this rookie was in high gear. Already the kid was in London, debuting a line of sportswear with his name on the logo.
"I suppose this is motor racing's equivalent of the Spice Girls," quipped Patrick Head, Williams technical director, to a British newspaper. "It is certainly not driven by us here at the team. I suppose you could say it's all a little unfortunate and driven by hype but that's the way it is.
Head further explained that Formula One in England was like pop music and that David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan, and Johnnie Herbert were as outdated as grunge music in the eyes of the British press and hence the British public perception.
Last year, the kid literally camped out at the circuit and paid to watch the race. This year Button lived up to the hype and this is indeed rare.
In the abysmal Silverstone weather, he qualified alongside two-time Formula One champion, Michael Schumacher on the third row. At the start he beat the German into the first corner and was three-wide with Mika Hakkinen, the reigning and two-time world champion. A little later, Button wowed his home country crowd with a fifth place.
"The crowd definitely helped," Button indicated. "I was really aware of them, especially in the last couple of laps. I was easing off then and I could hear all the commotion."
Even before the race, Williams was asked about Button's future.
"There is no need to make a decision today," said Williams. "I hesitate to elaborate very much as he's been talked and written about excessively."
Button shrugs off the hyper publicity.
"Buttonmania?" he asked. "I don't know about that. I prefer to focus on my driving. That's what's most important to me."
When pushed, Williams had to admit the young driver "has exceeded our expectations."
That report card gives the Brit a jump start on next year.
Even if Montoya wins a second straight CART championship, he has yet to score a Formula One point.