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FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
07/08/2006

Some thoughts have struck me about the sudden departure of Juan Pablo Montoya from Formula One. One is that Ron Dennis knew exactly what sort of man he was hiring. It was Sir Frank who took the initial risk.

Ron had seen JPM race in F1 since 2001. He had seen Juan Pablo in the paddock and pitlane and at functions. If there was a rumour about Montoya, Ron knew about it. When Montoya tested for McLaren, Ron knew where he braked, where he turned in, how many revs he was using, the lot. No longer is there any mystery surrounding a driver except for the essential, human, mystery of personal chemistry. I cannot understand how things could go so wrong.

It was clear that Juan Pablo was not going to get a top drive in 2007. Things were set in motion a year ago when McLaren signed Alonso. It is rare that a deal is done so far in advance and even more rare that it is made public. Some drivers would have reacted by upping their game, others need nurturing and normally Ron is pretty good at this, he has an amazing record of loyalty to drivers.

Montoya is not the first driver to have to consider going to a lesser team. At the end of 1983 there was a contract at McLaren waiting John Watson, but Wattie and his manager were sticking out for more money. Then Alain Prost was sacked by Renault and John had not signed. I knew Wattie pretty well and he had offers from Lotus and Toleman. He didn't want to go to Lotus because they were on Pirelli tyres (a day or so after his time for signing ran out, Lotus switched to Goodyear). Toleman was a new team and Wattie did not want to go into the business of building a junior team so he went into sports cars, and won races.

Juan Pablo could possibly have gained a seat with a lesser F1 team and that is not always a bad thing. In my eyes, David Coulthard has grown in stature by his performances with Red Bull, his drive in Hungary was remarkable. JPM decided that he would leave F1, it's his life and his career. There have been many drivers who have been in a similar position, but who have seen out their contracts before making the transition to CART, IRL, sports cars, whatever. The thing is that I cannot recall a driver being dropped because he was going to move to another series.

That did not happen with Michael Andretti at McLaren in 1993. Michael did not take to F1 and the split was best for all concerned. He then went on to give Reynard a debut win in CART and to take a further 14 wins. Michael was still a winner in a top series, but that series was not Formula One.

I believe that JPM has not actually been fired, but he has been transferred to other duties, or something like that, there are contracts involved.

Following on JPM's departure came the news came that Jacques Villeneuve was not going to race in Hungary. At the time of writing there is nothing but confusion, as you expect when a major manufacturer is involved.

Jacques was signed by Peter Sauber, who has one of the shrewdest brains in racing. Sauber sold his team to BMW and Jacques's contract was part of the package. Robert Kubica has been quick in testing and has looked a very good prospect. Kubica is Polish and, like Hungary, Poland is a former, unwilling, member of the Soviet Bloc. East of the Danube there is a growing market for BMW cars and a having a driver from the former Eastern Bloc has repercussions far beyond Poland.

After my last piece, I received mail from John Raisbeck, of 'Flightspares', in New England. John reckoned that a deal had been done for Jacques to race in one of the NASCAR series in 2007. He had good information, chapter and verse, and he reckoned that NASCAR was hungry for a Canadian star and if that Canadian was French Canadian, that would be a bonus.

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