The Colombian prepares a title charge in his final year with Williams before a move to McLaren.
By BRUCE LOWITT
Published February 13, 2004
ABOVE: Its not, 'Oh, Im (angry); Im leaving, Montoya says of his time with Williams-BMW. No, its a lot of things.
RIGHT: Montoya was just 11 points short of the 2003 world title.
Juan Pablo Montoya's finish line is about 81/2 months and 3,400 miles away, the length of the 2004 Formula One season. The distance for him from Williams-BMW to McLaren Mercedes can be measured in millions of dollars.
Montoya, 28, begins his final season with Williams on March 7 at the Australian Grand Prix. It will be a lame-duck season for him. In November, McLaren announced it had signed Montoya, and he will drive for it in 2005. He likely will replace David Coulthard.
The future shift doesn't alter the present, Montoya said. "It doesn't change anything. ... I think we will get exactly the same support (as teammate Ralf Schumacher), to be honest. I don't see why not."
"There are the drivers and constructors championships," Schumacher said. "We need both drivers for (the latter), so there is no reason to not look after Juan as good as they do after me."
Said team owner Frank Williams: "We believe that (Montoya) will give his usual 101 percent. It is not a matter that will cause me any loss of sleep."
Montoya said he didn't change rides for the money, though he is expected to at least double the estimated $3-million to $6-million salary Williams pays him. Schumacher's contract, estimated at more than $10-million, has one year remaining. Montoya expressed disappointment that Williams wouldn't match that number.
Montoya and Schumacher never have been friends, and the friction increased at the July 6 French Grand Prix. With time for the final pit stop approaching, Montoya was running second behind Schumacher, with slower cars ahead. Montoya pitted a lap early so he could return when the track was clear of traffic, while Schumacher was riding on older, slower tires.
But Schumacher decided to come in early as well, and he beat Montoya out of the pits. When an angry Montoya shouted over the radio at his team, his complaints were ignored. Just drive, he was told.
Schumacher and Montoya finished 1-2. The McLaren drivers, Kiki Raikkonen and Coulthard, were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Many observers think the pit incident was what prompted Montoya to leave. He was hesitant to isolate it as the turning point.
"It's not, "Oh, I'm (angry); I'm leaving,"' he said. "No, it's a lot of things. ... "It's what you feel inside, what you think you can achieve and what you think you can get out of something. What I got out of Williams has been fantastic. Frank (Williams) has been really good to me. Everybody at Williams and BMW has treated me really well. But it got to the point where, I am not maxed out, I think I can develop a lot more. I think by going to a different team, to experience different people and new things, I can develop even further."
At season's end Michael Schumacher, driving for Ferrari, won his sixth F1 championship, two points ahead of Raikkonen, with Montoya third and Ralf Schumacher fifth. Ferrari, Williams and McLaren were 1-2-3 in the constructors championship. If Montoya wins the 2004 championship, he'll be the latest in a line of Williams drivers to leave after claiming the title. Nigel Mansell won in 1992 and left for CART. Alain Prost retired after winning the 1993 F1 crown. Damon Hill changed F1 teams after winning in 1996. Jacques Villeneuve is the exception. He won in 1997 and stayed with Williams, then went to BAR in 1999.
- Information from espn.com was used in the report.