Saturday March 17th, 2001
BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger is tipping Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya to be a future world champion and said he has been impressed by his progress in his short spell so far in the sport.
Berger, who helped the impressive youngster Jenson Button develop in the team last season, believes Montoya has the potential to better the achievements of Button, who has gone to Benetton on loan while Montoya works with Williams, and to reach the top before the British driver.
"Montoya looks spectacular," said Berger, after watching Montoya qualify sixth for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. "Yes, he is great. We are going to have a lot of fun with him this year. He has still not got everything together yet, but when he does he is going to be very, very quick.
"He didn't do any laps yesterday but it was very nice to watch him. He has a lot of personality and I'm very happy to see him in the team. I like Jenson very much too, but I thought that Montoya in the moment can be a better choice for us.
"We didn't go into it in a hurry. We thought about it very carefully, about the whole thing. We knew that Montoya had unbelievable car control and he has unbelievable potential. Now the question is can he transfer that potential from America to Europe and into Formula One?
"What we have seen up to now makes me think he will quite strong from the mid-season onwards. Yes, he is a showbiz driver a bit."
Since Williams teamed up with German engine company BMW before last season many people have predicted they are the outfit to challenge Ferrari and McLaren at the front of the grid. Berger, however, refuses to get too carried away even though the team's other driver Ralf Schumacher will line up third on the grid for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
He added: "We are happy. In Melbourne we were a little bit disappointed because in practice, or really in the winter tests, we knew that our potential was quite good. Here, Ralf did a great job and Montoya did a good job too. Just everything worked out well.
"I know in Malaysia so far we have done better than in Melbourne, but I didn't expect us to be as close to Ferrari as we are. It is better than we thought. But I am sure Michael (Schumacher) was not worried, not him. Michael is always confident and he had plenty left in reserve. I never thought we would really get pole position.
"You could see that Michael had not had an ideal lap without any problems yet. So you could be sure he would get things together at the end. I don't think he had much in reserve at the end, but he had some before. I am sure of that.
"But Ferrari are in very strong shape and we are happy with third place anyway. I know McLaren very well and they are going to do their homework and they will be very strong again and we will behind them again.
"I am happy to be third, but it is nothing to say we are in front of Honda or Mercedes. We are just happy to be third and that is all. I don't really care who is there. Our only goal is to be in front of anyone and if we are not ahead we don't care who is.
"We should be able to do a good race. It is very hot and I think we are in good shape for the race. There will be a lot of cars having to make modifications on cooling and let's see how it works out in the race."