Montoya motivated by battle against the Schumachers

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The Independent Online

The expressive countenance was answer enough to the suggestion that his team-mate was threatening to leave him behind on the champion-ship trail.

Submission does not figure in Juan Pablo Montoya's range of strategic options, as the other Formula One drivers will testify, and he is especially disinclined to make way for the Schumachers.

Michael Schumacher has encountered the Colombian's defiance on the circuit to his cost - most recently at the Nürburgring. The younger of the German brothers, Ralf, must be made aware of it at every turn of his working day.

Montoya and Ralf Schumacher are partners at Williams-BMW, the team now seemingly best equipped to challenge Ferrari and Schumacher Snr for the constructors' and drivers' championship. Ralf leads their personal dispute courtesy of his victories at the grands prix of Europe and France.

But Montoya, second in those races, prepares for tomorrow's British Grand Prix here only six points behind Ralf in the standings and is evidently convinced that he has the pace and competitive instincts to cut his way through.

"I'm not anxious about the situation with Ralf,'' he says, the indignation blazing in those dark eyes. "It can all change so quickly in a couple of races, even in one race.

"Sure, he could be eight points ahead of me if it's the same result here. But it could also be four points. It's very close and it could have gone either way in France. This time it could go my way.

"In practice, I've usually been quicker than Ralf, so I know I don't have a problem with the pace. It's going to be an interesting challenge.''

Montoya was the faster of the Williams' drivers in yesterday's first qualifying session but, critically, Schumacher has had the edge in second qualifying, and has carried that advantage through the course of the racing since Montoya's win in Monaco last month.

Schumacher, informed of Montoya's comment, replied dryly: "I have beaten him in the last two races so I must be doing something right.'' The team principal, Frank Williams, and his technical director, Patrick Head, contend that Schumacher has capitalised on his greater experience of Formula One.

That assertion, too, is rejected by Montoya. Scarcely renowned for his prudence, he maintains that Schumacher has been riding his luck in the rarefied atmosphere of the one-lap qualifying format.

"It's nothing to do with experience in setting up the car or anything like that,'' Montoya said. "I have a more consistent approach in qualifying. He's taking more risks than I am. It's been coming off for him.''

Technical niceties, have, however, presented an area of potential improvement for Montoya and, perhaps significantly, he has now been assigned Frank Dernie, a vastly experienced engineer who once worked with Nelson Piquet and recently returned to the team.

Montoya said: "I knew Frank when I raced in America and he worked with Lola. He knows his stuff and it's good to have him working on my car.'' Dernie, as well as Williams and Head, will be conscious that if they allow their two drivers to slug out the championship without restraint both may fall and leave an unobstructed path for Michael Schumacher or, indeed, McLaren-Mercedes' Kimi Raikkonen.

In 1986 Williams had the best car and their drivers, Piquet and Nigel Mansell, were free to race for the title. Fate conspired against both in the final grand prix at Adelaide, and McLaren's Alain Prost surprised himself by retaining the championship.

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was outpaced by the Williams in France and Raikkonen ought to have won at the Nürburgring. But the older Schumacher continues to accumulate points in circumstances of apparent adversity and now stands eight clear of Raikkonen. Ralf is a further three points back.

Montoya said: "What I have to do is make sure I keep scoring points. The only one who can afford to not finish here is Michael. The other three know they have to finish and not drop any more points to him.''

Only five races are left after Silverstone and Williams are adamant that they will continue to give their drivers free rein, providing both are in contention for the championship. The other stipulation is that they do not take each other off.

Montoya maintains he is content with those arrangements and his prospects. "It's still a three-way battle of the teams and it changes every race,'' he said. "We were strong at Magny-Cours but at Barcelona we were hopeless and it could be different again here.''

The Williams package, including the Michelin tyres, affected a distinct shift of power in France and the team acknowledges that this race is likely to provide a more representative test of their ascendancy. Ferrari relished the cooler conditions as much as the fast sweeping sections of this circuit yesterday. Schumacher Snr was fastest and if it rains tomorrow he might be still more encouraged.

Montoya said: "You just have to get on with it whatever the conditions are. If it's wet you try to get as many points as you can.

"We know we have improved the car a lot since the start of the season. We've been pretty good for the last few races and now we've got a chance of the championship.''

Schumacher Snr recog-nises the competition yet said yesterday: "I expected us to be quickest and now to finish the job properly I have to win the race.'' However, temperatures are due to rise and the pressure from both Williams' drivers could intensify accordingly.