DECEMBER 1, 2001
BMW Williams has strongest 2002 driver line-up in F1 claims Berger
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA and Ralf Schumacher represent the strongest driver pairing in the F1 business according to Gerhard Berger, the Director of BMW Motorsport Limited, and the BMW Williams team is set to benefit from that fact. Yet Berger still believes that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari will remain tough nuts to crack next season and that Williams should realistically be aiming for second place in the World Championship ahead of McLaren-Mercedes.
"I think we have the strongest driver combination in the field," said Berger at a media lunch in London today (30 November). "Sure, Ferrari have Michael - but just Michael. I think for Williams we could have another Nigel Mansell-versus-Nelson Piquet situation with Montoya and Ralf." In 1986-87 Piquet and Mansell displayed as much intra-team rivalry driving for the Williams-Honda squad as they focused on trying to beat their rivals from opposing teams. It was a fraught, yet intensely exciting, period in the Williams team's history.
Berger maintains that the BMW Williams drivers are very evenly balanced, but concedes that Montoya had a better second half to his 2001 season that the younger Schumacher brother. "Montoya was brilliant in the last four races," said Berger. "Early in the season I realized it was clear that he had a lot of talent and great car control, but he didn't know where the limits were.
"We could see that he wasn't initially getting the best out of the his F1 tools. But then he pulled it round - completely a decision made in his own mind - and got it right. I saw a very different Montoya in Japan than I had seen in Australia. For me it is just a question of whether he continues to move forward and improve continuously, or does he drop back?
"As for Ralf, well, we saw two different Ralfs this year, sometimes impressive, sometimes disappointing. Over the last four races Montoya really woke him up, but let's see what comes out next year."
As far as BMW's technical audacity is concerned, Berger confirmed that the new 90-degree V10 engine for 2002 would see Munich once again pushing the outside limits of performance boundaries without any hint of conservatism. "We will be taking things as aggressively as we did last year," he insisted. "For me it is not a question of the new engine's size or weight (rumors say it is even smaller than this year's type P80 unit) but whether it will be competitive and reliable."
Yet despite believing that Ferrari is the team to beat again, Berger admitted that one can never underestimate McLaren - and he was speaking from personal experience after partnering Ayrton Senna in their F1 line-up from 1990-92.
"It's going to be between McLaren and us, I think, for second place in the Championship," said Berger. "They have changed tires to Michelin, they are completing a new factory and they will have a new engine from Mercedes. They are having a lot of change, the complete opposite to Ferrari's approach. There is much more risk involved in McLaren's strategy, but on the other hand I can remember them bringing a new car to a circuit the day before a race - and winning first time out."
Berger also had some firm words of encouragement for Jenson Button, the young Englishman who was displaced from his BMW Williams seat at the end of last year to make way for Montoya. "He has had a lot of pressure from his team-mate at Benetton," he said, "but he is a good guy. How good he is difficult to judge, but for sure he is not as bad as he looked this season."
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