APRIL 27, 1998
Montoya and Williams
ONE story doing the rounds in the paddock at Imola is that Williams has already signed up Columbian rising star Juan-Pablo Montoya to drive in 1999. Montoya is currently the team's main test driver and is competing in Formula 3000 with David Sears's Super Nova Racing.
Such a move would not be unusual for Williams as the team has been very impressed by Montoya to date and he is a great deal cheaper than Jacques Villeneuve. Williams has a tradition of promoting its test drivers with both Damon Hill and David Coulthard having got their F1 breaks via that job.
While the team will probably want to hold on to Heinz-Harald Frentzen so that it will have a German when the BMW engine deal begins in the year 2000, Villeneuve's future is much less certain. He has been linked to several other jobs and is not very happy with the struggle the team is having this year with the FW20 chassis. He also knows that the Mecachrome engine is not likely to as competitive next year as it is this season and so a switch to Ferrari (if Schumacher leaves) or British American Racing would make some sense.
The fact that Williams is likely to struggle in 1999 means that Montoya will be given the chance to learn the F1 ropes without being too much in the spotlight.
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