JUNE 12, 2000
Button and Williams
IT was a slow week for news in Monaco and so there were quite a lot of speculative stories flying around after the event, notably one which was run in AUTOSPORT magazine in London which suggested that Frank Williams and Patrick Head have already decided that Jenson Button will be replaced by Juan-Pablo Montoya at the end of the season. Our sources say that this is possible but that it is not finalized and much still depends on whether or not Montoya's CART team boss Chip Ganassi agrees to release the Colombian from his contract in 2001. Ganassi might be willing to do that but he is under pressure from his partners, notably Toyota North America and Target, to keep Montoya for another year.
Montoya was unknown in the United States a year ago. He arrived from Europe as part of a deal to replace Alex Zanardi and won the CART series at his first attempt for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The team then decided to switch to Toyota engines, not because they were more competitive than the Hondas which were used last year but because there was potential and Toyota was willing to pay. As champion Montoya was a great catch for Toyota and he has been working this year to develop the engine. He recently won the first Toyota CART victory at Milwaukee and gave Target an additional bonus by going to the Indianapolis 500 and winning America's best-known race in a completely different car.
It is possible that Montoya could win the CART title this year but it is more likely that he will suffer reliability problems as the engine development program continues. He has been helped by the fact that none of his rivals have been very consistent to date (there have been six winners in the six CART races).
Staying with Target Chip Ganassi for one more season would give both Toyota and Target the chance to use the Montoya brand they have established and it is unlikely that they will want him to disappear before they have used the success as much as possible.
Williams and Head may think that Montoya is potentially better than Jenson Button but at the same time they are very happy with Button's performances to date and they know that as he gets more F1 experience he is going to get better and better. There is no need to make an immediate decision about his future as if he improves quickly and starts to challenge Ralf Schumacher before the end of the year they will look very foolish if they have let him go to another team, even if they have a long-term call on his services. Button is believed to have a five-year contract with Williams but he would be free to race elsewhere if Williams could not offer him a job. At the same time the team would have to pay him to maintain the option.
"I'm just concentrating on my job," Button said last week. "I can only do my best. I want to stay with Williams next year. I've got a good relationship with them, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Button is believed to be on the shopping list of several teams but his destination if Williams does not keep him will not be decided until other moves are made on the driver market. With Jacques Villeneuve expected to go to Benetton, the next man in the spotlight is Heinz-Harald Frentzen who is believed to have been offered a big deal to join Eddie Irvine at Jaguar. If he leaves Jordan there would be a seat available for Button, if he stays Button could go to Jaguar. For the moment, however, it is all an academic matter as Ganassi has yet to make a decision.
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