FRANK Williams today expressed his sadness at losing Jenson Button but - despite signing one of motorsport's hottest stars - he still feels he does not have a championship-winning team.
Williams will 'regrettably' let Button depart to Benetton at the end of this season for two years 'on loan' to accommodate the arrival of Juan Pablo Montoya.
The 25-year-old Colombian is already being hailed as a future Formula One world champion having won the CART series on his debut, while he is also the reigning Indy 500 title-holder.
Williams admits he was left with no choice but to let Button go having already verbally agreed to sign Montoya as team-mate to Ralf Schumacher for the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
But it means he will have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in just over two years' time when the contracts of the trio all expire, allowing Williams to pick the best two.
With Montoya's appointment - one of the worst-kept secrets in Formula One - finally confirmed on Thursday, Williams said: 'We think he is a very talented driver.
'He has learnt and improved by racing here (in Champ Cars) for the last two seasons, but no one can be sure what his achievements may or may not be.
'Whether we like it or not all the drivers' achievements are dependent on the team and its equipment, so his success will be a measure of our success.
'But I do think he will be exciting to watch and we certainly hope he is able to match Ralf, or even beat him.
'Every team principle that signs a driver hopes he is acquiring somebody better than his present incumbents.
'It was clear in Formula 3000 he was very gifted, so we made every effort to secure him, and that has happened, regrettably at Jenson's expense.
'But Jenson is going to be another great driver. I am very sad he has had to go elsewhere for a period of time.
'But we had made a verbal commitment to Juan and we did not intend to back out of it because suddenly it was inconvenient.'
Despite a talented driver line-up, a world class and highly respected engine supplier in BMW, and a dedicated design crew, Williams does not feel his team is yet ready to match Ferrari and McLaren.
Although having emerged as the best of the rest this season behind the two heavyweights, a realistic Williams said: 'Our chances of being on a par, or even beating them are modest going down to slim.
'I'd rather not be pessimistic, but I take a relatively simple view about how difficult Formula One is.
'The top two teams are a second a lap quicker than everybody else and they don't have any miraculous powers, they are just very good at what they do.
'We have a reasonable idea of their assets and their strength in depth, and it's just not an easy achievement to overtake them or even run with them.
'So I'd rather talk small and deliver big than talk big and deliver nowt.'
Williams will at least have been buoyed by the performance of Button and Schumacher in the first two hour-long free practice sessions for this weekend's United States Grand Prix yesterday as they finished eighth and fifth respectively.
But not unsurprisingly it was McLaren and Ferrari who again topped the standings, with David Coulthard recovering from his early embarrassment to set the pace.
Coulthard suffered a depressing start as he was the only one of the 22 drivers not to complete a full lap of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the first session due to an electrical problem with the McLaren. The 29-year-old Scot had to have his car pushed back into the pits as he looked to clock an initial time on the newly-built 2.6mile circuit.
But Coulthard, 19 points behind team-mate Mika Hakkinen in the drivers' championship, soon made up for lost time as he then blitzed round the track in the second session in one minute 14.561 seconds.
Hakkinen, who leads bitter rival Michael Schumacher in the standings by two points, was just 0.134-of-a-second adrift of Coulthard, with the German third quickest in a time of 1:14.927.
The Jaguars of Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert were 12th and 17th, with the latter suffering a scare when he slid wide on the approach to Turn One, clipping the wall before being forced out with a punctured left-rear tyre.