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SEPTEMBER 27, 2003

The Montoya question

What gossip there was rainy Indianapolis on Friday was centered on whether or not Juan Pablo Montoya will move from Williams to McLaren in 2004 rather than waiting until his current contract runs out in 2005. Montoya is said to be keen to move because he feels that the knowledge that he is going to be leaving Williams will affect the way that he is treated. He will also be paid more at McLaren and it may be that he will have a faster car. Williams, however, recognises that Montoya has considerable talent although there are still many in the team who feel that he lacks the application needed and relies too much on his natural talent.

Any attempt to switch Montoya from Williams to McLaren at the end of this year would not however be the work of a moment. Montoya is very important to BMW and to Budweiser which want to make the most of Montoya's high profile in the United States. McLaren would also have to be willing to pay Williams to release Montoya from the remaining year of his contract, which would not be cheap.

There is also the question of David Coulthard. He has a solid contract with McLaren and so if McLaren wants him out it must be willing to pay and to face the fact that he might then turn around and offer his services free of charge to a rival team.

Williams could (in theory at least) take Coulthard but the signs are that Mark Webber would be the major target in the event of Montoya's departure. Webber's situation is that he is contracted to Jaguar in 2004 and 2005 but it is quite possible that if offered enough money that Jaguar Racing would agree to sell the contract. Our sources at Jaguar suggest that if the team is going to sell Webber, it is not going to do it for less than $10m.

There is also the question of whether or not a settlement would be necessary between Williams and Webber's manager Flavio Briatore although the contract which Briatore has with Webber appears to be between the individuals rather than between Webber and Renault. If Renault has a prior claim on Webber for 2006 this arrangement would also need to be negotiated away.

When all is said and done, this is a lot of negotiating and so the likelihood of Montoya moving must be seen as relatively slim - even if it is what Juan Pablo would like to see happen.