Montoyas Future In F1 Complicated But Certain
June 2, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
That phrase was repeated over and over during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend as people marveled at Juan-Pablo Montoya's dominating winning performance in the Indianapolis 500.
Montoya will be in Formula One soon. It is just a question of how soon.
When Alex Zanardi decided to quit CART Champ Car racing for Formula One, Chip Ganassi needed to find a new teammate on his Target team for Jimmy Vasser. F1 team owner Frank Williams recommended his current test driver and Formula 3000 champion Juan-Pablo Montoya. Ganassi and Mo Nunn flew over to Barcelona to watch Montoya test a Williams F1 car at Barcelona and were extremely impressed by the young Columbian ace.
The rest, as the say, is history. Montoya signed to drive for Ganassi and won the CART championship in his rookie season in 1999. With reliability problems caused by switching to Toyota engines, Montoya hasn't had the same success this year, but he still is one of the fastest drivers in the world.
Montoya is currently in the middle of the second season of his three-year contract with Ganassi. But he is under a long-term contract to the Williams F1 team and is basically "on loan" to Ganassi. The hot debate in the F1 paddock is whether Montoya will be in F1 next year or will he finish out his contract with Ganassi and come into F1 in 2002.
The three people who know the answer to that question: Frank Williams, Juan-Pablo Montoya and Chip Ganassi aren't saying much.
Asked if Montoya's win at Indy changed his situation at Williams, Frank Williams said only: "No more, no less."
Some F1 insiders take that to mean that the deal is done and Montoya will drive for Williams next year.
Frank was considerably more effusive when talking about Montoya's drive at Indy.
"It was a very exciting race to watch," Williams said, "particularly because of my personal interest in Juan-Pablo. There was lots of overtaking in a race that was always on the bubble, but Juan-Pablo was in firm control throughout. I offer my congratulations to Chip Ganassi doing a great job. And I congratulate Juan-Pablo on securing a victory with a one-off car in a one-off race. He dominated it all the way and made no mistakes. The only pressure came from Lazier, to which Juan-Pablo responded by moving up his game."
For his part, Montoya says F1 is on his agenda, but...
"I hear many things and, yes, Formula One has always been my goal," Montoya said, "But all I know is that I've got a contract with Chip for next year. I'm not in any hurry either - it has to be the right opportunity for me to go (to F1)."
The right opportunity would only be with a top team, and Williams, like Ganassi racing, is having to cope with a new engine program. While the BMW has been more competitive this season than even BMW had hoped for, it still needs development. The same can be said for Toyota's CART program.
It's speculated that Toyota will insist on Montoya staying through 2001. And it's believed that if Ganassi says Montoya has to stay in CART, then that will end all negotiations.
Further confusing the issue is the fact that Williams now has a surplus of superb driving talent. The highly regarded Ralf Schumacher is on a long-term contract, and rookie Jenson Button has already proved he will be a future star. Furthermore, Williams also has ties to F3000 driver Bruno Junqueira, whom Button narrowly beat out for the F1 ride at Williams earlier this season.
For Williams, it could be a case of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush because Button is now a proven commodity. Most F1 people don't think that Montoya will fail in F1 the way Michael Andretti and Alex Zanardi did when they came over from CART, but there has to be a shadow of doubt in there somewhere.
Button is on a one-year deal with Williams, and pit lane rumor has him signing for Jaguar next year where he will replace Johnny Herbert. Button, by the way, got caught for speeding in France last week. His BMW 330D was clocked at 143 mph in an 80 mph zone. The police took him to an ATM machine to withdraw the money to pay the $715 fine, and then bought him a cup of coffee and asked for his autograph!
"I think we should pay his fine because he was doing an unbelievable speed in a diesel!" said BMW's motorsport director Gerhard Berger. "I just heard that the headlines all said, 'Quickest Diesel of Them All.' So maybe we should just be happy about that."
Button is one of the few F1 drivers who doesn't live in Monaco. In all, 13 of the current F1 drivers live in Monaco: Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Pedro Diniz, Giancarlo Fisichella, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Hakkinen, Nick Heidfeld, Johnny Herbert, Ralf Schumacher, Jos Verstappen, Jacques Villeneuve, Alexander Wurz and Ricardo Zonta.
Will Montoya join the list of Monaco F1 residents? Keep an eye on RacingOne.com for the latest news on Montoya's move to F1.