MAY 15, 2000
Williams drivers in 2001
THERE is already beginning to be speculation about what Frank Williams and Patrick Head are going to do at the end of this season about their drivers for 2001. The team leader Ralf Schumacher is already under contract for next year and Jenson Button's remarkable performances so far this year would seem to suggest that he is the obvious choice to continue next year. We believe that there is a Williams option on Button and that the team has several months to decide whether to take it up or not. This would almost certainly be the cheapest option as when Button agreed to a deal he was in no position to argue for a lot of money.
Having said that, the team also has an option to sign up Juan-Pablo Montoya and this is where there is some confusion as the Colombian clearly has exceptional pace as he proved last year in CART when he won the title at his first attempt. Montoya is now developing the Toyota CART engine and last weekend came close to winning the race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, leading for 175 of the 200 laps but having to pit in the closing stages. He rejoined and finished seventh just behind the leading group. If Toyota development continues at the pace it has been in recent months it is quite possible that Montoya will be able to win the CART title for a second time and there is no doubt that he would then want to get into F1. If he fails to win the title this year for Toyota he might decide to take Toyota money and stay in the United States for another year to win the title and then switch to F1 in 2002.
While signing Montoya might be a good move, there is an element of risk in such a move and this will be only too clear to Williams which signed double CART Champion Alex Zanardi and discovered that the Italian did not like the F1 cars and was not performing very well. With Schumacher and Button there is no risk as the team knows that both men can do the job but that does not stop Williams and Head from worrying that they might be letting an even bigger talent get away...
The team is not expected to make any decisions until the autumn when Button will have some more experience and Montoya's situation will be a lot clearer.
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