Defiant Williams enjoy sweet taste of Montoya's victory

Monaco Grand Prix: Legendary British team owner responds to mounting criticism from suppliers with first win on Cote D'Azur in 20 years
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The Independent Online

Sir Frank Williams, as usual, looked as frail as a ghost. Beside him in the team motor home, Juan Pablo Montoya was as boisterous as a young bull. But then again, in these triumphant moments after the brilliant winning of the 61st Monaco Grand Prix, they might also have been joined at the hip.

Before the race it had been hard to say who was under most pressure.

The 61-year-old son of a war-time bomber pilot was facing mounting criticism from his BMW engine suppliers - and a widening sense that his brilliant career as Formula One's supremely individualistic team leader was in danger of being crushed by the juggernauts of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari and their big money challengers McLaren-Mercedes.

Then again, the 26-year son of a Bogota architect, whose investment in his son's career was so heavy he was forced to hitch rides in banana-loaded charter planes to watch him race in Indy cars in the United States, realised that he might be just one more mistake away from losing credibility as the most gifted threat to the supremacy of Schumacher.

But these seemed like old nightmares in the motor home beside the world's most glamourous harbour.

"Hello, Frank," said the winner, pulling off his racing jacket. "Hello boy" said the old team leader. "That was a great race - and it was nice to see you shaking hands with Kimi [Raikkonen, who finished second] at the end of the parade lap - it's so much better than the usual slagging off. You are both champions." Montoya placed his hand gently on Williams' shoulder and said they would talk later.

What would they talk about? Possibly an Italian report that Ferrari, looking ahead to the time when Michael Schumacher has finally gorged enough on unprecedented success - his contract runs out at the end of 2004 season - were contemplating moving Montoya into their No 2 spot in place of Rubens Barrichello.

More likely, though, they would speak of the sweetness of a victory that had a recorded margin of 0.602 of a second but in terms of satisfaction and solidly held nerve might have stretched the entire length of the Cote D'Azur.

If the tension of the last 10 laps - when Montoya led McLaren-Mercedes' Raikkonen by just half a second but was being told by technical director Patrick Head to "turn the wick down" on his engine because of a possible problem indicated by computer read-out - was exquisite, Williams wasn't saying so. "You get used to it over the years. There's nothing you can do," he said. "But when you get home it's wonderful... it makes everything worthwhile. And certainly its the best answer to the vilification we have been receiving over the last few weeks."

That was a barely veiled reference to the rumblings from BMW headquarters, and indeed the victory on the streets of Monte Carlo was a supreme vindication of Williams and his engineers. There is no greater test of a Formula One chassis, and if there was a flicker of doubt about Montoya's engine, the road-holding of his car was always superb.

Montoya was candid about the extent of his own need for victory. "It's nearly two years since my one and only win [in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza] and last season I won seven pole positions without taking advantage. That was bad and of course the pressure builds on you... I'm not saying what words we exchanged on the radio over the last few laps."

They might have come into the general category of technical discussion, but on the other hand they might just have reconfirmed the reputation of Spanish as the language most versatile in the range of its blasphemy.

By the time he faced the world in general Montoya had returned to semi-polite English, though he did say that he wanted the win more for Montoya than the Williams team, "though it is just good that we are all part of the same team. And this week it was a team which did a great job".

While all this was being said and felt, and in some cases inhaled as though it was oxygen, Michael Schumacher, who arrived for a coronation which would have come with a sixth win here to match the legendary Ayrton Senna, wore a face of utterly unrelieved gothic gloom.

He was asked several times about the meaning of defeat, did it signify a failure of strategy in carrying too much fuel into the qualifying lap and surrendering pole position - a traditionally vital prize on this ultimately tight circuit? Or did it say that reaction to the new Ferrari had been over-pitched?

Schumacher would have none of it. "It had nothing to do with the car," he told one interrogator. "All I can say is we used Bridgestone tyres," he told another. So there it was - bad tyres, and, maybe, a bad game plan. Nothing to do with the great Schumacher, and of course in this he was almost certainly right.

Before the race Sir Frank said he had come round to believing that Schumacher was the greatest driver ever to fit himself into a Formula One car. But, if asked, he would also probably have said Juan Fangio was more likeable.

Only two things mattered in the motor home when the old master and the young bull had their celebration of a much-needed victory.

It was that both of them had stood firm under maximum pressure. Montoya had been nerveless and fluent and averaged over 95mph on the twisting streets. Williams said: "It was a wonderful drive. Yes, he is a champion, I'm sure."

Williams was Williams, as defiant as you would expect a man who has remained at the cutting edge of a wildly competitive sport despite 17 years of physical paralysis.

Before the race he also said: "What is so fantastic about Formula One is that suddenly you can make a move that changes everything. One day you are down, the next you are up." That move came yesterday. It tasted sweeter then champagne and was more perfumed than the bougainvillea.

Frank Williams last won in Monte Carlo 20 years ago, with Keke Rosberg. Did he remember the feeling. "Oh yes," he said. Some things you have you never forget. Now, he and the young bull shared another.

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