McLaren-Mercedes has been battling - without success - to wriggle Juan-Pablo Montoya out of his 2004 contract with Williams-BMW, reports say. Is the high demand for the Colombian justified?

McLaren-Mercedes has been battling - without success - to wriggle Juan-Pablo Montoya out of his 2004 contract with Williams-BMW, reports say. Is the high demand for the Colombian justified?


Montoya unceremoniously dropped out of contention for the 2003 F1 drivers' championship title on Sunday after colliding with Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, receiving a pitlane drive-through penalty for causing the accident and then falling a lap behind the leaders. The Indianapolis race may have been affected by changeable weather conditions, but Montoya struggled despite having a clear engine power advantage over his rivals.


That prompted CAR deputy editor and F1 expert John Bentley to remark: "Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Kimi Raïkkönen (McLaren-Mercedes) didn't blink when the chips were down (at Sunday's US Grand Prix), and Montoya did. Montoya, with the same tyres as his younger Finnish rival, fell apart. Which suggests that the calculating Kimi, and not the mercurial Juan Pablo, is the hottest property among the young guns".


Nevertheless, Williams-BMW appears to be as keen to retain Montoya services as McLaren-Mercedes is determined to recruit him for the 2004 season.


The Colombian is likely to drive for Ron Dennis' team in 2005, but rumour was rife in the Indianapolis paddock over the weekend that Montoya would join Raikkonen at McLaren next year, forcing David Coulthard to leave for Jaguar to replace Mark Webber, who in turn would take Montoya's Williams seat.


Williams technical director Patrick Head said at Indianapolis: "We have a contract with Juan until the end of 2004 and there are no circumstances in which that will not be fulfilled."


In reaction, Dennis said: "McLaren-Mercdes has seven drivers contracted, most of which are contracted through the next three or four years, and I'm not going to list them. We have decided who's going to drive the cars in 2004, Coulthard and Raikkonen, and that's all we are prepared to say at the moment."


But how will McLaren-Mercedes' intention to recruit Montoya affect the long-term friendship between Sir Frank Williams and Dennis? "In any friendship you have rules of engagement, put it that way," the McLaren boss said. "You might like the other guy's girlfriend and you might express the fact that you like her, but it's a question of how far you go. You know, based on the level of the friendship, exactly what you feel is right about how far you go in trying to dissuade her affections away from the other guy. That is how we conduct our business relationship.