MAY 22, 2000

Will Montoya return to Formula 1 in 2001?

THERE is increasing speculation that Colombia's Juan-Pablo Montoya will return to Europe next season to take over Jenson Button's drive at Williams.

THERE is increasing speculation that Colombia's Juan-Pablo Montoya will return to Europe next season to take over JensonÊButton's drive at Williams. The BMW Williams team says that no decision has been made but confirmed that it does have an option on Montoya for the future. Montoya has been under contract to Williams since 1998 but has spent the last 18Êmonths in the United States, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. According to media reports during the Nurburgring weekend, Sir Frank Williams has asked Ganassi if the team would be willing to release Montoya for the 2001 season. Ganassi is understood to be considering the request.

There are several reasons why Ganassi may decide not to agree to a deal. Montoya is playing an important role developing the team's new Lola-Toyota package and has yet to win a race this year. While it is possible that Montoya could still win the championship it is more likely that the fully competitive package will not be ready until next year and Ganassi is unlikely to want to have to take on another driver to lead the team in 2001.

Williams also knows that if it decides not to take up its option on Button he will probably disappear off to another team and be lost to Williams. Button is understood to have received a huge offer to replace Johnny Herbert at Jaguar but there are no real signs that the team will be competitive next year as there is still a lot of restructuring needed and it is still at least two years before the team gets a really good windtunnel. Button would probably prefer to stay where he is for the moment unless he wants to make more money rather than be in a position to win races. At this stage in his career that is not likely.

But Button says that if he has to go he will. "I want to stay here for the next few years," Jenson said, "but if it came to going to another team then so be it. We will just have to wait and see what happens."

According to Williams there is no need for a quick decision and the team would prefer to watch and see how Button develops in the months ahead. His career to date has been exceptional but there are some within the Williams empire who believe that Montoya would be even better than Button and is ready to win races straight away.

"The first step is for Chip Ganassi to decide when he wants to release Juan Pablo," Williams said. "It's probably more likely that he'll want to get all three years out of him."

This would suit Williams better as Ralf Schumacher's contract could be terminated at the end of 2001, although the team has an option to keep him for a fourth season if it chooses to do so. BMW says that it is not important to have a German driver.