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Juan Pablo Montoya
"You can't be over-confident"
 real 14k

Friday, 23 February, 2001, 21:23 GMT
The flying boy from Bogota
Juan Pablo Montoya with his Williams team
Montoya will be the centre of attention this year
Great things are expected in 2001 of Grand Prix debutant Juan Pablo Montoya. BBC motor racing correspondent Jonathan Legard looks at what makes him tick.

You don't mess with Juan Pablo Montoya.

On working with his Williams team, the most successful of the 1990s: "If you don't like something, you've gotta say it. Like in testing. I go straight to Frank (Williams) and I tell him what's wrong."

On the world champion, Michael Schumacher. "Michael is a great driver but if he was in a Minardi, he'd qualify 20th at every race."

On his team-mate, Ralf Schumacher. "It's not up to your team-mate to drive the car. Yeah, we'll share telemetry and stuff, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't matter."

Montoya tests the new Williams-BMW FW23, copyright LAT Photographic
Montoya has replaced Jenson Button at Williams
Like I say, you don't mess with the boy from Bogota.

Formula 3000 Champion in 1998, CART champion in 1999 and Indy 500 winner in 2000, Montoya, 25, is now ready for business in F1 with the team where he raised so many eyebrows as test driver three years ago.

Jenson Button's replacement has returned from America like a whirlwind. Button's own debut with the team last season currently feels like a breeze by comparison.

Anticipation and expectation charge the air around Montoya wherever he goes.

At his comeback test at Jerez last December, he was almost mobbed in a scrum of cameras, microphones and notebooks.

It was like a race weekend.

But his American apprenticeship served him well. Chatty and charming, he handled his inquisitors the way he controls his car - lively, upbeat, self-assured, commanding with a strong sense of enjoyment and fun.

'Best driver ever'

The cameras loved his ring-of-confidence smile, which is just as well because he's about to become one of the faces of 2001 and beyond.

But nobody was left in any doubt who was boss.

Already Williams' new boy has been hailed as the next Ayrton Senna. Coincidentally, the Brazilian has been a fellow South American's inspiration.

Jaguar's team boss, Bobby Rahal, a first hand witness of Montoya's starring role in CART, has described him as "simply the best driver I have ever seen".

Sir Frank Williams
Williams says that Montoya's style appeals to him

And his appeal to Frank Williams shines as brightly as the sun in Colombia.

"I remember watching him racing in the wet at Hockenheim in 1998 and seeing him pass four people on the grass on the main straight," Williams said. "That certainly got my attention."

The Montoya Appreciation Society has another key member as well.

"He loves being a racing driver and racing other people," said Williams technical director Patrick Head.

"He's just the sort of driver I like and Frank likes. He loves outfumbling and outfoxing people on the track."

The pair clearly see the same qualities in Montoya as made them thrill to the attitude and achievements of those revered, hard-charging Williams world beaters Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg and Nigel Mansell.

I know how to win a race, how to push a car to go fast and how to get a team behind me
  Juan Pablo Montoya

And the man himself - short, stocky but trimmer than when he first arrived back from the land of the burger and fries - has no problem with such expectations.

"I hope I'll surprise myself in F1, like I surprised myself how well I did when I first went to CART," he said. "I was on the pace from the second race.

"It'll be nice to shake up the established order. I'm a driver who always likes to be pushing. I don't go out on a track just to drive around. I think you've got to give it a go always."

If Williams have indeed closed the gap on McLaren and Ferrari, as many predict, the grid could be as eye-catching as it has been for some years.

"A lot is going to depend on how the Michelin tyres are going to do," warns Montoya, quick to stall suggestions that the front-running days of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen are about to come to an abrupt halt.

"In testing Michelin look quite good, but quite good is not enough. They have to be on the money.

"The biggest thing after America is that I'm wiser than before. I know how to win a race, how to push a car to go fast and how to get a team behind me."

Gone in a year

For a man accustomed to living out of apartments in Monaco, Madrid and Oxford, not to mention the family home in Bogota, he's already made himself at home back in F1.

How long he stays depends how well he performs.

Williams' previous big name CART signing, Alex Zanardi, was gone in less than a year.

By contrast, Jacques Villeneuve came, conquered and remained.

A team, a nation and a sport hope a similar tale of triumph is about to unfold.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 |  Motorsport
Montoya 'won't beat team-mate'
27 Jan 01 |  Motorsport
Williams expects driver rivalry
05 Dec 00 |  Motorsport
Montoya 'feels no pressure'
28 Oct 00 |  Motorsport
Montoya shakes off Schu snub
23 Sep 00 |  Motorsport
Williams wants Montoya to beat Ralf
21 Sep 00 |  Motorsport
Williams admits Montoya is the man
07 Sep 00 |  Motorsport
Ralf criticises Button loan deal
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