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NOVEMBER 17, 2003

The inside story on Montoya and McLaren

The news that Juan Pablo Montoya is to move to McLaren in 2005 is not a surprise. The stories have been circulating since late July when it became clear that Williams was not willing to increase the Colombian's salary in 2005. At the same time Montoya was upset that the team looked likely to re-sign Ralf Schumacher and he felt that as long as Schumacher was in the team he would not be able to win the World Championship. The choices for 2005 were limited in that Ferrari was not an option as Michael Schumacher appears to have a right of veto on who his team mate will be. The only team worth looking at therefore was McLaren and, thanks to the poor qualifying performances of David Coulthard, an opening was possible in 2005. The deal was done quickly and there followed several attempts to see if Coulthard could be moved out early, to allow Montoya to go to McLaren ahead of schedule.

Logically-speaking, Montoya should be a challenger for the 2004 World Championship but much will depend on what happens in the early races next year. The BMW Williams combination is not going to be overly keen on letting Montoya go off to McLaren with more information than is absolutely necessary and so Juan Pablo can expect to find himself shut out of the development programmes from around mid-season and as a result of that it is fair to say that his chances of winning the World Championship are going to be limited as a result.

Williams did try to look for an alternative and tried very hard to sign up Mark Webber but the Australian is nailed into various contracts with Jaguar Racing and Renault and so it was not possible to get him out in time to let Montoya move on.

And so Williams will go into the new season with a driver combination, which is not ideal. At the same time David Coulthard knows full well that he is the man who is going to be axed from the McLaren line-up and so his motivation is going to be interesting to watch. David hates the current qualifying arrangements and may do better with two laps in 2004 and he will be out to show McLaren that the team has made a mistake. It will be interesting to see what DC will do in 2005. It is not very likely that he will get a drive with either Ferrari or Williams and the option is to move to a developing team such as Toyota. There is, however, a danger that he will not be able to find a drive for 2005 and that will undoubtedly knock a hole in his motivation in the second part of 2004.

The other question is who drives for Williams in 2005. The current suggestion is that with Webber out of the picture and Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen tied up elsewhere, Williams will go for a deal with Rubens Barrichello, given that the Brazilian has done such a good job alongside Michael Schumacher and is now ready to emerge as the number one of a top team once again. The option would be to go for a youngster but at the moment there are no really outstanding young talents about, although Williams is taking a look at the likes of Piquet Jr. and Rosberg Jr.