Montoya Destined For Williams - Next Year
June 9, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
There are 14 races left in the season, and if the reports coming out of the United Kingdom are correct, he’ll be driving a Williams-BMW in Formula One next year. The only place to see him will be at the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
According to the respected British motorsports magazine, Autosport, the 24-year-old Colombian is being recalled by Williams, 20-year-old Jenson Button is getting the sack for next year.
Why is that?
What we do know is that Chip Ganassi has a three-year contract for Montoya’s services, but it is very likely that, as is the case with many racing contracts, there is a straight two-year deal with the third year being an option.
If the option is in Frank Williams’ favor then he can exercise it by taking back Montoya -- who was a test driver for the team two years ago -- and that is the most likely scenario.
Also I’m told that Williams has Button under contract for two more years and can "loan" him to Jordan or another team without fear of losing him. My friends in Formula One tell me that Williams doesn’t want to lose Montoya to another team.
It’s not just the seven race wins, poles and CART title in his rookie year that makes Montoya so valuable.
This year he drove the practically untested Lola-Toyota package and has dominated in laps led with 482, which is more than double that of any other driver in the six races run this year.
On top of that, he adapted to an entirely different machine in record time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With less than six full days of practice in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series G Force-Oldsmobile before coming to the Indianapolis 500 in May and missing the first weekend of practice because of a schedule conflict with the CART race in Motegi, Montoya ran away from the IRNLS regulars, who have had, more or less, three years to figure out that package.
And that was all play to Super Juan. According to his teammate, Jimmy Vasser, Montoya found his IRNLS racer so slow that he had a John Deere (tractor) decal hidden on the car to express his feelings about it.
He breezed around the 2.5-mile Brickyard in qualifying and was nudged off the pole by the 1999 IRNLS champ Greg Ray, who said that he held his breath during his four-lap qualifying run.
In the Indy 500 he had about only a nanosecond’s worth of worry from Buddy Lazier.
While Montoya was slipping through traffic like a hot knife through butter, Lazier, who won Indy in 1996, was plagued by his IRNLS cohorts.
Back in his Lola Toyota in Milwaukee, he led 179 laps of the 225 during the Miller Lite 225. According to his publicists, he’s led 461 of the last 651 laps run, or 70.8 percent of the past four races.
Barring an error, which he did have in Houston and Surfers Paradise last year, the Super Juan juggernaut is about to take off. Since he’s won his first championship the pressure is certainly off this kid, and I don’t think that it’s likely that he will be making those unforced errors again.
One of the reasons for his quick success is that he is fast study, his makeup is to not be
intimidated. I’m not sure he’ll be intimidated by Michael Schumacher, at Ferrari or by either McLaren drivers Mika Hakkinen or David Coulthard. Well, okay maybe swerving Irvine.
He’ll do well over there because he carries with him all the right learning experiences.
When he was a kid, his father, Pablo -- who then raced go karts -- learned one secret of speed is on starts and restarts. Pablo then taught young Juan this lesson. Juan crashed a lot of go karts, but he learned how to race on cold tires. That lesson has stuck with him.
Coming to the United States last year, Montoya was put under the tutelage of Morris Nunn, who engineered Alex Zanardi to Rookie of the Year and two CART championships. And a lot of people forget Nunn was the engineer during the Patrick-Ganassi championship year of 1989 when Emerson Fittipaldi also took the Indy 500.
At first Montoya had to depend on Nunn, but since Morris has started his own team, Juan has found a fast and easy relationship with Bill Pappas, who used to work with Gil de Ferran.
Super Juan is learning fast, and at the mega Formula One team level, driver/engineer input doesn’t seem to take on the same importance as over here.
Is Super Juan ready for Formula One? Yes he is. Although he can compete with the Schumachers, Hakkinens and Coulthards, he’s not quite championship material. But, in a year or two he can be.
Then Frank Williams will probably bring back Button or Bruno Junqueira -- who just might well be Chip’s next driver.
Hey, does anybody remember Zanardi?