APRIL 3, 2000

Sir Frank goes to Florida

AFTER the Brazilian Grand Prix Sir Frank Williams flew home via the United States for a tour of the team's sponsors in North America.

AFTER the Brazilian Grand Prix Sir Frank Williams flew home via the United States for a tour of the team's sponsors in NorthÊAmerica. We understand that the Williams F1 boss visited Compaq in Houston and Nortel in Montreal during his goodwill tour but we also hear that he stopped off in Miami to meet Juan-Pablo Montoya and his CART team manager ChipÊGanassi.

Montoya has been under contract to Williams since the start of 1998. He won the European Formula 3000 title that year and Williams then organized a deal for him in 1999 with Ganassi in CART. Montoya won the title at his first attempt and remains with Target Chip Ganassi Racing this year, trying to win the CART title with Toyota engines. The Colombian driver qualified second at Homestead and led the race for the first 21 laps but eventually retired with electrical problems.

Williams has the first option on Montoya's services in 2001 but the startling performance of Jenson Button so far this year in Formula 1 has created something of a problem for Williams as the team now has too many good drivers under contract for 2001. Ralf Schumacher (24) has a contract with Williams until the end of 2002 and the team also has an option on 20-year-old Button's services until 2004. Montoya (24) has shown some dazzling pace in the United States but has never raced in F1 and so his recruitment would be a risk for the team.

BMW boss Gerhard Berger has made no secret about his feelings. "I would not swap Jenson or Ralf Schumacher for anybody," he said after the Brazilian Grand Prix. "They are the two strongest drivers in the field. They are both so young. Jenson just needs six months or a year then he will be a real winner. He has got such great potential, he just needs to get everything right. I am not surprised at what he has done so far. From the very first test I was convinced that he would do a good job for us. What I didn't know was how he would cope with the pressure of being an F1 driver, but that is something he seems to have no problem with."

Williams refuses to make any comment about his discussions with Montoya but he may be trying to convince the Colombian to remain under option to Williams until 2003 rather than move to a rival F1 team. Montoya could then replace Schumacher.