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banner Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 14:15 GMT
Ferrari chase Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher
Montoya and Schumacher - team-mates in 2003?
By BBC Sport Online's motorsport editor Andrew Benson

World Formula One champions Ferrari are chasing rising Williams star Juan Pablo Montoya for the 2003 season.

The Italian team want to prise the Colombian away from their rivals after being impressed by his performances in his debut season in 2001, BBC Sport Online has learned.

Ferrari want Montoya as the long-term replacement for their number one driver, four-time world champion Michael Schumacher, a source close to Williams said.

Montoya's manager Julian Jakobi played down the claim, saying that the driver was committed to the Williams team.

Team boss Frank Williams
Frank Williams will have to cough up to keep Montoya

"It's nice to know that other teams are interested but he is under contract to Williams," he said.

But Williams team boss Frank Williams would not comment, saying only: "We do not discuss contractual matters in public."

Ferrari also moved to distance themselves from Montoya.

Sporting director Jean Todt said: "We think Montoya is a good driver.

"His first year in Formula One, at the wheel of a competitive Williams car was a positive one. However, Ferrari has never had any contact with him, either directly or indirectly."

The contract of Ferrari's number two driver, Rubens Barrichello, runs out at the end of 2002, while Schumacher's runs to the end of 2004.

Option

But Ferrari will have a fight on their hands if they continue their pursuit of the 26-year-old.

Montoya said last year that he would not be interested in going to Ferrari while Schumacher was there because the German would always have priority status.

And Williams have an option on Montoya for the 2003 season, and are understood to intend to keep him on.

But the British team are concerned by Ferrari's interest in their protégé.

The source said that the team were likely to give Montoya the massive pay-rise that would be needed to keep him out of Ferrari's grasp.

Juan Pablo Montoya chasing Michael Schumacher in the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix
Montoya: A growing thorn in Schumacher's side
Montoya's salary for the 2002 season is reputed to be in the region of US$1.5m, which is very low for a top-line Grand Prix driver.

Montoya's new salary would have to be more in line with the market rate - his team-mate Ralf Schumacher is on a reputed $12m.

If Montoya chooses to leave, Williams can exercise a contractual option to bring back Jenson Button, who is on loan to Renault.

This is not the first time the team have expressed an interest in Montoya.

When Schumacher broke his leg in 1999, the Italian company's president, Luca di Montezemolo, said they would contact Montoya about replacing him.

Montoya was committed to the Ganassi team in the US-based Cart series at the time.

Montoya has become one of F1's biggest stars after performing a starring role with Williams in 2001.

Among the highlights of his year were:

  • Montoya pulled the overtaking move of the season in only his third race, taking the lead from Michael Schumacher in the Brazilian Grand Prix
  • After an inconsistent start, he gradually got the better of the much more experienced Ralf Schumacher. He out-qualified the German five times in the last seven races, emerging as the dominant driver in the team
  • Montoya scored his maiden victory in the Italian Grand Prix, two races after being forced to surrender a win in Germany because of mechanical problems.

    Montoya and BMW Williams are expected to be one of the biggest obstacles preventing Michael Schumacher winning a third consecutive drivers' title in 2002.

    However, Schumacher looks to be in good form going into the season - on Monday he set a new lap record at his Ferrari team's home track in Fiorano.

    Schumacher, driving last year's F2001 with which the team may start the new season, posted a time of 58.783sec, which beat his own mark of 58.792.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    BBC motor racing correspondent Jonathan Legard
    "It would be a fantastic pairing"
    See also:

    10 Jan 02 |  Formula One
    Montoya is target for Ralf
    16 Sep 01 |  Formula One
    Colombian comes of age
    18 Jun 01 |  Forum
    Q&A: Juan Pablo Montoya
    23 May 01 |  Formula One
    Schumacher denies Montoya rift
    02 Apr 01 |  Formula One
    A new F1 star is born
    02 Apr 01 |  Formula One
    Schumacher 'should fear Montoya'
    15 Apr 01 |  Formula One
    Montoya rejects Ferrari rumours
    12 Apr 01 |  Formula One
    Schu relishing Montoya scrap
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