For quite some time there have been questions about the future of Juan Pablo Montoya in Formula One and the answer came on July 9th. The Colombian will leave the F1 circus after this season and return to American racing in 2007, this time in the...
For quite some time there have been questions about the future of Juan Pablo Montoya in Formula One and the answer came on July 9th. The Colombian will leave the F1 circus after this season and return to American racing in 2007, this time in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Montoya will be reunited with Chip Ganassi, with whom he won the CART (now Champ Car) title in 1999. He won the Indy 500 on his first attempt in 2000 then moved to F1 with Williams in 2001. He scored his first podium that year in Spain and his maiden win in Italy, and finished sixth overall in the standings.
In 2002 he climbed to third in standings, although he didn't notch up any victories. He managed seven podium finishes and also the fastest ever qualifying lap at Monza. The following year he was again third overall, with race wins in Monaco and Germany, then in his last year with Williams in 2004 he dropped to fifth, but took the final win of the season in Brazil.
Montoya seemed suited to Williams: the team likes drivers that race hard and the Colombian is nothing if not aggressive. He's also attracts a lot of attention and is hardly the quiet type. So his switch to McLaren in 2005 raised a few eyebrows -- the Woking squad is considered to be rather conservative these days.
When Montoya joining McLaren was announced in November 2003, team principal Ron Dennis said "the opportunity to sign a talent like Juan Pablo was too good to miss". Montoya himself said he was considering his long-term future when he decided to join McLaren but it seemed even after only one season he was not likely to stay.
Montoya's first season with the team was difficult but he won three races -- Britain, Italy and Brazil -- and finished fourth in the standings. However, the attention last year was firmly on his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and the Finn's fight for the championship with Renault's Fernando Alonso.
Alonso duly took the title in Brazil at the end of September, which gave rise to a couple of sour comments from Dennis but even before the end of the year McLaren announced that it had signed Alonso for 2007. Obviously that meant either Raikkonen or Montoya would be out of the team for next season.
From the outset McLaren made no secret that it wanted to keep Raikkonen but the Finn was linked with a move to Ferrari. Montoya's future was uncertain and his results were not exactly helping -- his season so far has been blighted with troubles, both the car and of his own making.
It didn't take long for it to become pretty clear that McLaren was not as competitive as had been expected and also that the team and Montoya were destined to part company. He was linked with Red Bull, Renault and even a return to Williams but the rumours were vague and not so long ago a return to the States for the Colombian joined the speculation.
It's not such a big surprise for that speculation to become actuality. Naturally it's a big disappointment for Montoya's fans who wanted him to stay in F1, including yours truly, but either a decent seat or a decent offer wasn't available. Whatever the case, Montoya is upbeat even if it seems an odd career move.
"When people think of moving from Formula One to NASCAR, some people think I'm crazy, but I think it's exciting," he said in a press conference at Chicagoland Speedway, Illinois, today, July 9th. "I think it's a great challenge for my career. Coming here is probably going to be my toughest challenge ever."
Montoya barely spoke about his reasons for leaving F1 and what he said was not particularly enlightening. It's not surprising -- after all, he still has the rest of the F1 season to finish. He claimed he had offers but decided he wanted to work with Ganassi again.
The salary difference between F1 and NASCAR will be noticeable for Montoya but he said money was not the most important thing. "I don't think you're going to be happy getting more money and being miserable all day," he commented.
"When I called Chip I said, 'Chip you know what. I want to come back racing, and I think the best place to do racing is here.' Chip told me I needed to convince him if I really wanted to do this. He actually asked my father if I really wanted to do this, and he said he'd never seen me more convinced. It's that simple."
"It's not how many millions you're making or how much money you're making. It's a matter of three years down the line are you going to be excited about what you're doing or not. I think three years from now when I look at my career I'm going to be happier here."
So was Montoya's decision more wanting to get out of F1 or more wanting to race in NASCAR? "If it was more to get out of it, I would probably call Chip for his IRL team," he said. "I've won there, and I could be competitive. He's got a winning car there."
"Knowing they had a seat available here, it was a pretty exciting challenge. My family is welcomed, and I'm welcomed and that's exciting. My wife asked me if I was sure I wanted to do the Busch races. I said if you've got a choice between sitting in the motorhome or sitting in the racecar and learning, I'll take the racecar."
See our NASCAR series reporter's story at:
Montoya moves into Ganassi 42 Dodge in 2007