Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
Juan Pablo Montoya
. . . was born in in Bogata, in 1975, and competed in F1 for five and a half years, 2001-2006. After karting experience he moved to F.Renault in 1992, at the age of 17… In 1993, in the Swift GTI Championship he won seven of eight races, and started all eight from pole position. He tried several different series around the world during 1994-1996, and always excelled, especially with his ability to take pole.
In 1997 Montoya finished 2nd (by just one and a half points) in the F3000 Championship and, after a test at Jerez, was offered a test role at Williams for 1998… as well as then winning the F3000 title.
For 1999 Williams were ‘forced’ (allegedly), by commercial pressures, to swap Montoya for 1998 CART champion, Alex Zanardi, who then had a dreadful year in F1… while Montoya took America by storm and won the CART Championship in his rookie year (emulating another ex-Williams driver, Nigel Mansell, in 1993), at the age of 24 – scoring the same number of points as Dario Franchitti but he had seven wins to Dario’s three. Montoya was also attracting criticism for his aggressive driving style.
Montoya had another year in the States but the only highlight was victory in the Indy-500 – the first rookie to do so since Graham Hill in 1966 – but more and more drivers were becoming critical of Montoya’s ‘reckless’ driving.
Somewhat belatedly Montoya made his F1 debut and throughout 2001 had to deal with a car that was sometimes fast but was more often unreliable – flashes of brilliance were mingled with adverse comments from other drivers. He retired from eleven of the seventeen races, but was on pole three times, recorded fastest lap three times, had three 2nd places (behind Michael Schumacher) and took his maiden victory at Monza… to finish 6th overall.
In a Ferrari-dominated year Montoya out-performed teammate, Ralf, to be ‘best of the rest’, claiming pole for seven of the seventeen races, plus three fastest laps, four 2nd places, three 3rd, four 4th, and a 5th – Montoya has laid claim to a place on this list.
In some ways 2003 was the best of times… but also the worst of times – an age of wisdom, but also an age of foolishness – it was an epoch of belief, an epoch of incredulity… and even Dickens might have had a modicum of hardship in describing some of the antics of its incumbents.
Ferrari maintained (just) their dominance, while the FIA summarily dismissed Arrows’ application after failing to appear for the last five races of 2002 for financial reasons, after twenty-five years in the sport. The HANS device became mandatory, although a handful of drivers rejected its potential contribution to their personal safety. It was a time when Montoya confirmed an innate belief of his superiority to all other competitors, to the incredulity of all other competitors…
A three-way battle that went almost to the wire, with Schumacher besting Raikkenon by two points, and Montoya ending up nine points further in arrears. Their three teammates, plus Alonso, hung on grimly. Most people might have been expecting a Ferrari/Schumacher year but at no time was this a foregone conclusion.
What might have been one of the best F1 seasons was also disrupted by a chaotic Brazilian GP, and by the Silverstone invasion by a now-defrocked, but still disturbed, ‘priest’ who ran down the centre of the Hanger Straight trying to distribute leaflets to drivers who were just trying to avoid colliding with him, at about 250kph…
Sáo Paulo had been swept by torrential storms. Another stupid FIA reglation insisted teams only used one type of rain tyre. The Bridgestone runners only had ‘wet-intermediates’ which were inadequate. The race started late, and under the safety-car. Immediately, cars were spinning everywhere. The safety-car came out… and went back in… several times. Nobody seemed to be actually ‘racing’. Several teams refuelled their cars early, in the hope that under the safety-cars they could save fuel, and run to the end. Fisichella was first in, and thus continued in last place.
Barrichello led for much of the race until his fuel supply stopped supplying fuel. Coulthard led until his pitstop and Kimi took over on lap-53 but he ran wide and, as far as anybody could see (in the spray) Fisichella’s Jordan took over – on lap-54… Now… pay attention, because I’ll say this once only…
Near the end of his 54th lap, Webber crashed exiting the final corner, bringing out the safety car. Alonso failed to slow for the waved yellow flags, and hit one of Webber’s tyres on the 55th lap. His Renault crashed into a tyre wall sending tyres across the circuit, effectively blocking the track and making continuation of the race, even behind the safety car, impossible. The race was red flagged.
At the lap of the red flag being shown, there was confusion over whether the result should be taken from the order on lap-53 or lap-54. Ordinarily, this might be relatively academic, but with Fisichella taking the lead on lap-54, the decision was critical. The circumstances of the race conclusion meant he would not necessarily win the race according to FIA rules. The circumstances also meant the post-race ceremonies were marked by considerable confusion on the part of the race stewards, organisers, the teams and drivers – imagine what the fans were thinking… Fisichella believed he had won; he and Eddie Jordan were seen celebrating in the pits… before being informed that Räikkönen and McLaren were being awarded victory.
And, in case anyone is getting bored, Fisichella’s car caught fire in the pit lane, adding to the confusion – which suddenly seems to be far too casual a word – bewitched, bothered and bewildered might be more appropriate. Under F1 regulations at that time, article 154 stated that (and this is where the story really starts…), if 75% of the race distance is completed – in this case 54 completed laps, 76% of race distance – it was ‘deemed to have finished when the leading car crossed the line at the end of the lap two laps prior to that lap during which the signal to stop was given’.
Are you still with me…? The stewards, believing Fisichella was on his 55th lap and thus completed the 54 laps required for a full result, awarded the victory to the race leader at the end of the 53rd lap, namely Räikkönen. Fisichella was awarded second place and Alonso third… and the podium ceremony went ahead.
However… for several days afterwards many technical folk, far more qualified than this scribe, burned an inordinate amount of midnight oil and… guess what…? Apparently, amidst all the excitement, there had been the tiniest of mix-ups and… well, it seemed Fisichella had just started his 56th lap before the red flag signal was given; meaning the race results should have been determined as of the end of the 54th lap, at which point Fisichella was leading.
Evidence was presented to an FIA court in Paris and, five days after the race, victory was awarded to Fisichella. Since Alonso had been unable to take his place on the podium due to injury, it thus emerged that the Brazilian podium ceremony had proceeded without any step being occupied by the correct driver.
During the next race weekend at Imola another (but unofficial) ceremony was held – Räikkönen and Ron Dennis ceremonially handed over the winning driver’s and constructor’s trophies to Fisichella and Eddie Jordan.
And aren’t you pleased I’m only going to say that once…?
For record lovers (and I don’t mean those vinyl things…) there were no recorded overtakes during the Monaco GP, a very rare occurence, despite what sometimes seems to be the case.
Elsewhere during the season, at the European GP Montoya passed Schumacher on the outside of Dunlop Kurve, which left Michael spinning his rear wheels in the gravel… [Remember when cars left the track and lost position, instead of coming straight back, and even gaining position…?] and Montoya retained 2nd place. Afterwards Montoya asserted he had left enough room and, unusually, Schumacher agreed… but, apparently Ross Brawn had not been satisfied, leading Patrick Head to assert that, had Montoya been penalised, it would have effectively been a declaration that overtaking was no longer allowed in Formula One racing.
After thirteen races there was another, even tighter, three-way battle for supremacy, as the circus arrived at Monza, with two points covering Schumacher, Montoya and Raikkonen. Schumacher and Montoya finished 1-2, with Kimi’s chances spoiled by Barrichello taking 3rd ahead of him. At Indianapolis, in heavy rain, Montoya received a drive-through penalty for ‘causing an avoidable accident with Barrichello’… on lap-2. This left Montoya with no hope of the Championship – and left me to deal with him here… He later declared it took him two days to overcome his anger at this situation…
In an unusual ‘up and down’ career Montoya now experienced a ‘down spell’, and his relationship at Williams soured when it was revealed he had signed for McLaren for 2005. Several finishes in the points, and a lucky win in the final race (plus two fastest laps, but not a single pole position), only gave him 5th place in the Championship.
Montoya moved to McLaren to replace Coulthard, who moved to Red Bull to replace Webber, who took Montoya’s place at Williams… Both McLaren and Ferrari had early problems and the Renaults took the lead in the Championship. McLaren recovered but it was left to Raikkenon to score when Montoya put himself out for a couple of races after a crash which perhaps affected him physically more than he admitted. In the second half of the season Montoya managed two poles, and a fastest lap, and two wins to give him 4th overall, while Kimi had five poles, ten fastest laps, and seven wins…
It seemed as if Montoya might have peaked already.
McLaren again started the year badly – in the first ten races Montoya retired five times and scored points in the other five. It has never been revealed how this affected his relations with McLaren but, at that tenth race, at Indianapolis, Montoya announced he would be returning Stateside for 2007, for an attack on the NASCAR Championship… This came as a bit of a surprise to many people, but none more so it seems than Ron Dennis who, the following day, announced that test-driver, Pedro de la Rosa, would replace Montoya – effective immediately.
Ozzymandius Rules – OK…
It is claimed that before this split McLaren had signed Alonso for 2007, and Montoya might have thought he was being ousted. But it was Kimi who left McLaren (to replace Schumacher at Ferrari) and only much later that Lewis was signed to partner Fernando. Perhaps Montoya believed Alonso would be given No.1 status, and decided to leave… but even so, he didn’t need to leave F1… so there was a big disgruntlement going on somewhere…
In a five-and-a-half-year F1 career, Montoya won seven GP, had a further 23 podiums, 13 poles, and 12 fastest laps, to place 6th, 3rd, 3rd, 5th, 4th & 8th in the Championship. Perhaps he expected (and was expected) to achieve more but, in the final analysis he wasn’t consistently better than Ralf Schumacher at Williams, and was out-performed by Kimi at McLaren… but he was usually near the front for five years and (apart perhaps for his abrupt withdrawal from F1) never seemed to give up, often attracting adverse comments from competitors along the way.
Everybody, in whatever field they commit themselves, invariably has a limit, though perhaps some might sadly die before it can be defined. Many people achieve great success as they work their way up which can be doubly frustrating if they reach their personal peak before reaching the ultimate goal.
Since 2007 Montoya has spent seven years with Ganassi in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, his highest Championship position being 8th in 2009. He is still accused of being able to go fast, but not race. For 2014 he will be returning to IndyCars, with Penske Racing… after a fourteen-year gap…! It will be interesting to see if this is more than a PR exercise, but Montoya’s fan-base is enthusiastic, pointing out Montoya is younger than Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and his new teammate, Helio Castroneves… But if he takes his honed driving techniques from NASCAR to the more gentlemanly IndyCar circuits there’ll be tears before bedtime.
“Formula 1 drivers are convinced that they’re so much better than anyone else . . . When I was in F1, every week I was on the podium. It was cool, but is it satisfying? It wasn’t, because it was the most boring races.”
In fact… Montoya competed in 96 weekends, retired in 32, and finished on the podium in 30… along with 7 wins, 13 poles, and 12 fastest laps… for which he graces our pages.
Juan Pablo Montoya was considered to have arrived in F1 at the Brazilian GP in 2001 when he ‘audaciously’ passed Schumacher at the start of the third lap…
to be continued, next week…
8th – Giles Villeneuve
9th – David Coulthard
10th – Felipe Massa
11th – Mark Webber
12th – Tony Brooks
13th – Rene Arnoux
14th- Rubens Barrichello
15th – Dan Gurney
16th – Clay Regazzoni
17th – Didier Pironi
18th – Richie Ginther
19th – Francois Cevert
20th – Peter Collins