The Driver Files: Juan Pablo Montoya
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
Next to receive treatment in the Driver Files was a dynamic Colombian who always spoke his mind and gave Michael Schumacher more than a headache on one occasion. This is the career in Formula One of Juan Pablo Montoya.
NAME: Juan Pablo Montoya
TEAMS: Williams (2001-2004), McLaren (2005-2006)
GP STARTS: 94
BEST FINISH: WINNER (7) (2001 Italian Grand Prix, 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, 2003 German Grand Prix, 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, 2005 British Grand Prix, 2005 Italian Grand Prix, 2005 Brazilian Grand Prix)
THE motorsport career of Juan Pablo Montoya has been an unrivalled success. He has adapted to many forms of racing and is one of the leading stars competing in America today. His experiences in Formula One were frustrating at times to witness. On his day, Montoya would be almost untouchable and he certainly rattled Michael Schumacher more than once in the dominant Ferrari days. There were other days where a daft error saw him get deservedly punished or he just didn’t seem to bother. There was a lot that happened during JPM’s six years in Formula One.
Before the F1 chance came Montoya proved himself through karting and junior series competitions in Britain, finishing fifth in the 1996 British Formula 3 championship. In 1997, Juan Pablo made the step upto international competition by contesting the F3000 championship for the RSM Marko team. He won his second event on the Pau circuit and finished second in the championship at his first attempt, missing out on the title to Ricardo Zonta. He came back the following year and despite some silly basic errors, won the title for Super Nova against Nick Heidfeld. Montoya also enjoyed some testing for the Williams Formula One team in the same campaign.
With Williams desperate to attract more sponsors, Sir Frank Williams placed Montoya in the competitive CART series for 1999. He would race for Chip Ganassi whilst Alex Zanardi made the nightmare move in the opposite direction. Seven wins in his debut season, but some criticised his aggressive approach and he never got the hang of street circuits. Going into the finale on the Fontana Speedway in California, Montoya trailed Dario Franchitti but got the result he needed to win the title on countback of wins and become the youngest driver at 24 to win the championship. The celebrations were marred by the tragic death in the race of one of Montoya’s close friends on the CART scene, Greg Moore. JPM stayed in CART for 2000 but with a switch of chassis and engine combination, he wasn’t a factor for the championship due to unreliability. He did win in Milwaukee though and dominanted the Indianapolis 500 to win the prestigious race at his first attempt. With all the boxes ticked in America, Formula One beckoned.
Jenson Button was loaned out to Benetton to make space for Montoya in the BMW Williams team. 2001 was similar to 2000 as his car was unreliable and a few rookie errors such as crashes in Monaco and Canada meant the Colombian only saw the chequered flag on six occasions. There were plenty of highlights in his debut season though.
He passed Schumacher for the lead in stunning fashion in just his third event in Brazil and made his mark from an early stage. Had it not been for a piece of idiotic driving from Jos Verstappen in taking him out of the race, Montoya would have won. His first finish was second place in Barcelona having started a distant 12th. As the season progressed, Juan Pablo began to get a measure on Ralf Schumacher and should have won at Hockenheim where he took his maiden pole position. A refuelling rig problem and subsequent engine failure denied him glory in Germany. There were no mistakes at Monza though, as he held off a stiff challenge from fellow South American Rubens Barrichello to win his first race. Again, celebrations were at a premium as the Monza race was held only days after the 9/11 atoricities. Another technical problem robbed him of victory in Indianapolis where Schumacher was stylishly passed again. He finished sixth in the drivers championship with 31 points.
That tally improved to 50 points and third place in the 2002 drivers championship but it was a distant position as Ferrari romped to the title. The BMW Williams combination was a match for the F2002 on Saturdays and gave Montoya seven pole positions. In fact, he set the fastest ever average speed for a lap at Monza. However the Ferrari tended to have the edge on raceday and Montoya couldn’t compete with Schumacher and Barrichello. There were run-ins with the German in Malaysia, becoming the first ever recipient of a drive-through penalty in the process and in Brazil. There were no wins, second in Australia, Spain and Germany were his best finishes.
Williams came out with a worse package at the beginning of 2003 and Montoya struggled with chronic oversteer and early reliability issues. He threw away victory in the season opener in Melbourne with a clumsy spin and crashed out in Brazil. A rotten engine failure in Austria lost him another victory chance and left JPM a distant seventh in the championship. His season turned around with a decisive win around the streets of Monte Carlo. After this, Montoya strung together a run of seven successive podiums which included thrashing the opposition at Hockenheim to win by nearly a minute.
By now the Williams was the fastest package and the championship was potentially his. Unfortunately he blew his chances at Indianapolis. A poor start was followed by an amibtious attempt at passing Barrichello on the third lap. The contact left Rubens in the gravel and the race stewards gave Montoya a drive through penalty for the incident. He couldn’t recover and sixth place that day ended his hopes. Schumacher took his sixth title and with the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso on the scene, Montoya’s place as Michael’s successor began to look under threat. A radical design of a ‘walrus’ nose backfired in 2004. Montoya’s relationship with the team was strained and he had already agreed to move to McLaren before the championship even begun. Juan Pablo could only manage fifth in the championship but signed off his career with Williams in style by winning the team’s last race upto now; the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
The partnership with McLaren in 2005 got off to a nightmare start. He fractured his shoulder during an incident whilst playing ‘tennis’ in Spain and it forced him out for two races. Other misdemeanours followed on his return. He brake tested Ralf Schumacher and caused a four car practice shunt in Monaco, sending him to the back of the grid. The chance of winning in Canada disappeared when he stupidly missed the pitlane red light and was promptly disqualified. Montoya’s form improved in the second half of the season as he won brilliantly at Silverstone, Monza and in Brazil. He finished fourth in the championship with 60 points.
By the start of 2006, it soon became clear that Montoya was growing tired of Formula One. Fernando Alonso had already been signed by McLaren for 2007 and his performances started to decline. He spun out in Spain, made several errors in Australia and was hopelessly uncompetitive at the Nurburgring. Third at Imola and second place at Monte Carlo were plus points but his relationship with Ron Dennis was now beyond repair. At Indianapolis, he triggered a pile-up at the second corner by hitting his team-mate Raikkonen and spinning the pair out. The incident also ended the races of Jenson Button, Nick Heidfeld and Scott Speed. A week later, Montoya announced his was moving to the NASCAR series for 2007 and on July 11 2006, McLaren Mercedes confirmed his shock departure from the sport with immediate effect.
The NASCAR journey began with third on his debut at the Talladega Superspeedway. He has won two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and finished eighth in the series overall in 2009 and he won the 24 Hours of Daytona in both 2007 and 2008. He is happily married to Connie and has three kids. Today he still competes in NASCAR for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team.
Juan Pablo Montoya had a lot of talent in Formula One but he wasted his best opportunity to win the title and he didn’t have the required qualities to win the ultimate prize in motorsport. However, by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona, Montoya is a born winner and he did provide plenty of excitement in his time in Formula One.
NEXT IN THE DRIVER FILES: The first Japanese driver to ever compete in Formula One, Satoru Nakajima.