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Montoya staying in America - Panis for Williams?

JUAN-PABLO MONTOYA told Colombian television last week that he is definitely staying in the United States of America for the 2000 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The 24-year-old Colombian had been linked with a switch to Williams having won the CART title this year - at his first attempt. Instead Montoya will now drive a Toyota-engined Reynard for Ganassi.

There are several reasons for his decision: Williams is likely to struggle with the new BMW engine and is unlikely to win races in 2000; although Ganassi may have similar problems with the Toyota engine it can take the blame if Montoya has a disappointing year. If he is successful he will take a lot of the credit. In addition Montoya is expected to make a great deal more money in 2000 than he did this year. This year's deal was rumored to be only $250,000 plus prize money and Jimmy Vasser recently joked that Ganassi had not only hired Montoya cheaply but also Ganassi had to be paid by Williams to take him! If that was the case Ganassi got a real bargain but he will have to pay a great deal more this year to keep Montoya although Ganassi is believed to be making a great deal of money from the Toyota deal.

While Montoya's decision to stay in America might seem to suggest that Williams is going to keep Alex Zanardi this is by no means certain as the relationship, which while genial, has not been a success and there have been few signs that Zanardi is going to be any closer to Ralf Schumacher next year. Williams is well aware that next year Jordan will have two drivers scoring points and the team needs a similar situation if it is to maintain its level of performance in the Constructors' Championship - which is always the team's primary target.

We hear that while Zanardi and Williams are discussing what to do, the team is also considering the possibility of hiring Olivier Panis. The Frenchman has the experience gained from 91 Grands Prix, including a memorable victory at Monaco in 1996. An accident in 1997 left him with two broken legs and was a setback for his career and his relationship with Alain Prost was never a very comfortable one. In the past Panis has not done well against team mates who are capable of matching his pace but since the summer there has been a noticeable change in his level of performance. This seems to have come about because he has come under the management of former World Champion Keke Rosberg - who won the 1982 World Championship for Williams and a man who the Williams management still respect as a fighting driver. The fact that Rosberg is managing Panis - his only other charge in F1 is World Champion Mika Hakkinen - would suggest that Rosberg believes in the 33-year-old Frenchman's potential and he may be able to convince Williams that Olivier is the right man for the job. Williams may have to move quickly as Panis is also in negotiations with McLaren to become the team's third driver next year.

Last week BMW Motorsport boss Gerhard Berger said that he would not interfere with the choice of drivers at Williams but he did not confirm that Zanardi will be there next year. "We will wait and see what's going to happen," Berger said. "I think Alex is a great guy but let's wait and if it's relevant in the future then we can discuss it."

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