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Montoya could still race this season: McLaren

'He is still an employee and could be back this season,' says McLaren chief.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2006 18:18 IST

Juan Pablo Montoya could still race in Formula One this season, after all.

The Colombian driver left the McLaren team this week after announcing that he was switching to the US-based NASCAR series next season.

However, McLaren chief Ron Dennis said on Friday that Montoya is still a McLaren employee and could be back this season.

"Juan Pablo is contracted through to the end of the year," Dennis said at the French Grand Prix. "And if we so choose, he will test and race again."

Asked whether Montoya could race again in F1, Dennis said, "More than possible and with our team."

"He still is contracted to us, unless there is some other commercial arrangement between ourselves and the NASCAR team or Juan himself," Dennis said.

There are eight races left in the F1 season.

Montoya said on Sunday he was joining the NASCAR series next season. On Wednesday, McLaren announced that he was leaving the F1 team immediately. That led to speculation that Montoya could compete in NASCAR sooner than expected.

Montoya moved to F1 with Team Williams in 2001. He fell short of expectations with Williams and, after moving to McLaren in 2005, also was disappointing with that team.

Montoya never finished better than third in the F1 drivers championship and won just seven races in 95 starts. Montoya was sixth in this year's F1 standings.

He's being replaced for now by test driver Pedro de la Rosa, who will race alongside McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

"Clearly Juan Pablo has struggled at times," Dennis said. "I feel the team has been totally supportive of him and continues to be supportive of Juan Pablo."

Current F1 champion Fernando Alonso said he was surprised by Montoya's move.

"A driver has to have motivation and be quick. He has to be aggressive in his driving style," Alonso said. "Maybe he lost a little bit of motivation.

"So the best thing is to find a new one. In NASCAR he will do a great job, hopefully."

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who has had a number of close calls on the track with Montoya, declined to answer when asked whether he will miss him.

But Schumacher said he can't see himself following Montoya to NASCAR.

"Personally I wouldn't do it," he said. "What do you see in NASCAR? What is exciting about it? I can't see running around in ovals. I don't see the challenge for me."