Montoya groomed for world dominance

Williams expect Colombian recruit to break Schumacher-Hakkinen stranglehold next season

The circuit was new, the race a revival of an old favourite, but the underlying story of Sunday's United States Grand Prix here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was just another episode in the two-star saga of Michael Schumacher v Mika Hakkinen.

The circuit was new, the race a revival of an old favourite, but the underlying story of Sunday's United States Grand Prix here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was just another episode in the two-star saga of Michael Schumacher v Mika Hakkinen.

Since Hakkinen's maiden GP success in 1997, the Finn has been the only racer consistently able to challenge the man who took over Ayrton Senna's mantle as the F1 yardstick by which drivers are judged and by which they judge themselves.

Had Hakkinen's McLaren-Mercedes not expired due to engine failure just as he had slashed a hefty deficit to Schumacher to fewer than four seconds, the story of this year's world title fight might have been less predictable than it seems. But it would still not have done anything to change F1's current status quo.

What it needs most right now is somebody to challenge that. And that might be the man who stood in the pits and watched Schumacher speed to a crushing 42nd victory on what now seems an inexorable collision course with Alain Prost's all-time tally of 51: Juan Pablo Montoya. There has been no shortage of candidates for the irksome moniker of "The Next Senna". For a while Alex Zanardi was a possible contender after three brilliant years of IndyCar racing in America. Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button, the former kart racers who seem to have a propensity for colliding with one another of late, have also both been saddled with it.

Yesterday, following Sunday's second-lap shunt, Trulli said: "Jenson Button is really an idiot at the moment. He is driving like a crazy man. He was pushing me hard and he tried to outbrake me, but it was too late. He then collided with me and we went off... My race was effectively over at that point because of Button's big mistake. It's not the first time he's done that, and I think he needs to cool down because it can get very dangerous."

Now it is Montoya's turn to be weighed down. The 25-year-old from Bogota took over Zanardi's seat at Target Ganassi Racing, and his role as CART's pacesetter, dominating the championship last year in his rookie season. Seven pole positions and seven wins made him the youngest champion ever. Before that, he raced F3 and then F3000 in Europe. Those who saw his ability to find overtaking places at Monaco, of all places, still speak in awed tones. Gordon Kirby is not given to such things, but the hard-bitten journalistic doyen of the American circuit has seen enough race drivers in his three decades to know what makes a good one, and he has no doubts about Montoya.

"He is the best I have ever seen. And that includes Gilles Villeneuve and Keke Rosberg, who were the best road-racing F1 drivers I watched in North America. Montoya drives an oversteering car just like Gilles did, but he is more in control of it. He's not wild and crazy, he just hangs it out. I guess you'd say he is out of control but at the same time in control - he's always super smooth."

Sir Frank Williams finally got around to announcing at Indianapolis what the world has known most of the season: that Montoya will "replace" Button at Williams-BMW in 2001 as partner to Ralf Schumacher. The German is no slouch himself, but Kirby is not alone in feeling sorry for him. Montoya, they say, is going to get inside Schumacher's head right from the start. "He is very strong mentally," Kirby says. "The guy doesn't say much, he isn't much of an intellectual or a personality outside the team environment, but he just loves what he is doing. He's just a kid who is enjoying himself, and he can translate that into the team. He is a fantastic motivator. A straight-ahead, let's go, let's make it better kind of a guy."

Much has been made of the fact that Montoya's arrival is pushing Button off to Benetton-Renault for the next two seasons, and for the first time this weekend Williams finally revealed the course of events leading up to that. "My partner Patrick Head and I felt that we would make every effort to secure Juan; and that has happened. Regrettably, I want to state, at Jenson Button's expense. And Jenson is going to be another great driver. We're sad he's had to go elsewhere for a period of time" - Button is contracted to Williams until 2005 - "but we had already made an unspoken commitment to Juan and we didn't intend to back out of it because suddenly it was inconvenient."

Williams played down his expectations of Montoya, but F1 team owners do nothing out of sentiment and he will be expected to race hard and to win. "Clearly he is a very talented driver and I don't think he's done anything but learn and improve by racing over here [the States] for two seasons. These cars, after all, have 900 horsepower, which is embarrassingly more than we have. Beyond saying those words, no-one can be exactly sure what his achievements may or may not be."

Montoya appears to have the right credentials thus far. He has won on all types of circuit, including the tough ovals, where lap speeds reach 240 mph. "I'd hesitate to say he is better than Ayrton Senna," Kirby concedes. "But he is certainly in that category and he is better than Michael." More than one vaunted hotshoe has gone cold at F1 level, but it is all food for thought for the man who looks increasingly likely to wear this year's crown. Not just for the challenge he faces, but for what may lie in wait for his brother, too.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all