On the silliness of knee-jerk rule changes that fix non-existent problems, a Brawn-free future for Mercedes and Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to the single-seater mainstream
As the Formula 1 Strategy Group – comprising six members from the FIA, six from the Formula One Group and six from the teams (Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Lotus, Williams) – was announced, plenty of people, notably from teams not represented, were most unhappy, for this new ‘think tank’ effectively replaced the Technical and Sporting Working Groups (which had generally worked well), and apparently had the power to push through rule changes that might not necessarily be for the common good.
On Monday, December 9, there was held in Paris a meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and the Formula One Commission, after which an FIA press release was issued detailing changes to the Formula 1 regulations, all but one of these to take immediate effect.
The first was not only welcome but vital, for it declared that the principle of a global cost cap had been adopted, as of January 2015. Not all voted in favour – I leave you to guess the teams opposed to it – but there is no doubt that such a thing had to happen if F1 were to continue in recognisable form, if the smaller teams were to stay in business. The cost cap itself has yet to be determined, but assuredly it will be way higher than the £40m proposed by Max Mosley four years ago. One cannot imagine the expense and complication of policing such a thing, but unquestionably it is needed.
There was common sense involved, too, in the F1 Commission’s agreement – on safety grounds – to allow Pirelli an extra three-day test in Bahrain a week or so before Christmas, with six teams – the big four, plus Force India and Toro Rosso – accepting the invitation to attend, although McLaren and Force India later withdrew. Testing constraints put on the tyre supplier in recent times have been an absurdity.
Next, driver numbers. In such as NASCAR (and MotoGP), it has long been the practice for a competitor to be associated with one race number for his entire career. This is considered to be of significant worth as a marketing tool, which is why it is being introduced. For spectators it may be initially confusing because no longer will, say, the two Saubers have consecutive numbers, but over time a driver and number will become synonymous, as with Richard Petty and 43, or Valentino Rossi and 46.
Ironic now to remember that, following the death of Gilles Villeneuve, representations to the FIA that the number 27 be ‘retired’ in perpetuity were met with stony silence. Perhaps, if numbers are suddenly so important, it would be wise for the FIA to stipulate they be of a size clearly visible to spectators.
Next, new penalties – as if there were not already too many. For ‘minor infringements’ (not defined in the document), it was agreed that a five-second penalty should be introduced. How this will be applied is not yet decided, but the mind boggles at the thought of its being instantly added to a driver’s time during a race, so that what appears to be a wheel-to-wheel scrap is in fact between two cars five seconds – or more – apart.
The only solution would appear to be adding in the penalties at the end of the race, although then the true finishing order will not necessarily be the one spectators thought they had seen. The argument against drive-through penalties has always been that, once applied, it’s too late for a change of stewards’ opinion or an appeal, but at least spectators know where they are. On the face it, this new regulation looks like a recipe for protest.
The real sting in the press release, though, came appropriately in the tail, for the very last item revealed that henceforth double points – for both drivers and constructors – will be awarded at the final race of the season. This, it was explained, is ‘in order to maximise focus on the Championship until the end of the campaign’ – or, to put it another way, to maintain healthy viewing figures, so as to keep the TV companies and sponsors happy.
I well understand the importance of TV figures, and appreciate that inevitably they’re going to drop off when, say, one driver wins the last nine races, but short of a rule – as Frank Williams laughingly suggests in our recent podcast – forbidding Adrian Newey from designing any more racing cars, such a possibility will always exist. Sometimes the World Championship goes down to the wire, but more often it does not. This is called reality, and it should not be subject to manipulation.
To give the proposition an even more farcical aspect, the revised Grand Prix schedule for 2014 means, of course, that this ‘double points’ race will take place not at Interlagos (or, for that matter, any other great theatre of motor racing), but at Abu Dhabi, the blandest venue of all – and also probably the richest.
In the past Abu Dhabi twice staged the final race, of course, not least in 2010, when I remember walking down to the first corner half an hour before the start, and noting that the grandstands were at best half-full. Well, it was only a four-way World Championship decider between Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Hamilton…
Thereafter the final race reverted to Interlagos, scruffy but imbued with history and atmosphere, packed to the gunwales with passionate fans, the perfect venue at which to bring the season to a close. One wondered – briefly – why it had lost its prime position in the calendar for 2014, why Yas Marina had recouped it, but then swiftly concluded that a premium of some kind will have been paid. Whatever, I’m sure the gentlemen of CVC will be delighted and that, as we have come to understand, is all that matters.
Five hundred and fifty million pounds – you read that right – they stripped out of F1 in 2012: this comforts neither circuits devoid of government backing nor teams struggling to meet wage bills.
When I read of the new ‘double points’ rule, momentarily I wondered if this were a spoof, a spot of uncharacteristic Yuletide jesting from the governing body, but I’m afraid not. Henceforth the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, God help us, will be twice as important as any other – or, to put it another way, worth as much as Spa and Suzuka put together, and if you don’t find that laughable I have nothing to say to you.
“This is absurd,” commented Sebastian Vettel, “and punishes those who have worked hard for a whole season.”
Now, of course, one wonders what ‘strategy’ comes next in the continuing trivialisation of our sport. Weight penalties – ironically named ‘Success Ballast’ – as employed in the BTCC and elsewhere? Reversed grids? Speed bumps in the pits? Why, the possibilities are endless. One item on the table in Paris – and mercifully rejected on the grounds that it might damage the racing – was a proposal from Pirelli that at least two pitstops be made mandatory, together with a limit of the race using hard compound tyres, and 30 per cent using soft. How simple, apart from anything else, that would have been for TV commentators to keep track of…
Prior to the meeting, Ross Brawn, so often a quiet voice of sanity in Formula 1, said he hoped this particular rule change would not be adopted. “If you asked ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I couldn’t tell you,” he said, “but intuitively I don’t think it’s right to have a regulated number of pitstops.”
‘Intuitive’ is the mot juste, Ross. Some things you just know are a bad idea, and making one Grand Prix twice as important as any other is one of them, for it has the potential to make a mockery of a World Championship season.
Amazing now to remember the way F1 used to sneer at American motor racing, denigrating not least its use of pace cars and ‘yellows’, an obvious necessity in the event of an accident on an oval. ‘Closes up the field artificially, wipes out the leader’s advantage – can’t be right’ was the attitude, but eventually, although we chose to call it a safety car, the policy was adopted here. And much else besides. DRS, anyone?
Perhaps we should just stick with ‘F1’ from now on, or maybe ‘Strictly Come Racing’. Somehow ‘Grand Prix racing’ seems less appropriate by the day.
As the year draws to a close, revelations about the one to come break surface all the time, but – the deliberations of the F1 Strategy Group apart – there have been no great surprises. First and foremost, Ross Brawn announced soon after Interlagos, the final race of the season, that he was stepping down as team principal of Mercedes.
This had been in the wind for some time, for the team has become more than a little top-heavy with chiefs of one sort or another – Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe, Niki Lauda – and that was never likely to suit one of Brawn’s personality and achievement. As time went on, and his departure looked ever more likely, there arose speculation that he would move to McLaren, to Williams, even back to Ferrari.
For now, though, it seems certain that Ross will take a sabbatical, as he did in 2007 after leaving Ferrari. In the short term he appears to have little intention of joining another team, having not completely severed his ties with Mercedes, to whom he will remain available for consultation purposes.
In 2007 Brawn and his wife decided to spend the year travelling the world, their choices of destination heavily influenced by his passion for fishing. There were long spells in the Seychelles, in Argentina, in New Zealand, and Ross savoured the break. “The great paradox of F1,” he told me at the time, “is that you’re travelling the world constantly, but never really have time to see anywhere. My sabbatical had several purposes, one of which was to put a full stop at the end of my Ferrari career. Another was that there were various types of fishing I’d never had the time to do, and I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now – in my early 50s – I might not be fit enough to do it when I next have a break…’”
Had Brawn been certain that this marked the end of life with Ferrari? “Not completely, no, but there was a feeling that it had been a fantastic period in my life, and going back might be like revisiting an old girlfriend – might be a disappointment! I also wanted to reflect on what I wanted to do next, whether it was within motor racing, or somewhere else.
“At first I found watching a GP on TV, and not being involved, an absolutely surreal experience – I had terribly mixed emotions and I confess it took a little while for those feelings to subside.
“More and more, though, I really started to enjoy the sabbatical. Although I watched most of the races, depending on where we were, for at least six months I did actually turn my mind off, in terms of what I might do in the future.
“Then I did some talks for various organisations, including the MIA, and at one of them I sat next to a chap who wanted to talk to me about having a role in the British entry for the America’s Cup. And that started me thinking about what I was going to do.”
Brawn had promised Jean Todt, then still with Ferrari, that if he did decide on a return to F1 he would speak to him first, and this he did. There was no doubt that they wanted him back in Maranello, but none in Ross’s mind, either, that he would entertain it only as team principal. “The problem was that Stefano [Domenicali], as well as being a close friend of mine, had been a great servant to Ferrari, and I didn’t want to stand in the way of his being given that opportunity. There was some discussion about how we might share the role, and so on, but I didn’t see that as a workable solution.
“We found ourselves in a slightly awkward situation, in that Ferrari wanted me back, but they weren’t quite sure where to put me. In the end, I think we all reached a point where we thought, ‘We’ve had the discussion, and it hasn’t crystallised, so it’s better just to shake hands, part as friends, and do our own thing’.”
For all that, Brawn had concluded that he did indeed want to return to F1, and soon afterwards there came the offer from Honda. After a year that metamorphosed into Brawn GP (following the economic meltdown precipitating the Japanese company’s withdrawal), which brought a World Championship for Jenson Button in 2009, after which the outfit was bought by Mercedes. Now, four years on, Ross finds himself looking at a different horizon.
Looking back on that conversation with him, a striking difference between then and now is that he was at pains to stress how much support from FOTA (Formula One Teams Association, lest it has slipped your mind) he had received while building up Brawn GP in the advent of Honda’s departure. “There seems to be a much stronger camaraderie among the teams than there used to be,” he said. “Something that definitely evolved from difficulties with the FIA was that in all my time in F1 I’ve never known the teams to be as united as they are now. FOTA, as a body, was crucial to our survival. It was formed in the first place to try to improve F1, not to get into confrontations all the time, and – despite great efforts by some to break it up – it’s lasted, too. So far, anyway…”
Ah, but that was then. In the intervening period FOTA has not exactly broken up, but its teeth have been removed by defecting teams, encouraged in this direction by rewards of a fiscal nature. Vested interests against common? It’s never much of a contest in F1. Where briefly we had a strong FOTA, now we have… the F1 Strategy Group.
In pondering what Brawn might do next, some have suggested that he is the man who – in Bernie Ecclestone’s stead – should take over the running of F1, and one can see the sense in this, for none in the business is more savvy than this calmly authoritative man who has seen and done it all and enjoys universal respect in the paddock.
Perhaps more to the point is why the hell would Ross want to do it? At 59, he is a wealthy man who can do what he wishes with the rest of his life. Why spend it in the minefield of F1 politics, particularly at a time of such destabilised uncertainty?
While Brawn takes his leave, temporary or otherwise, others necessarily focus on the coming season, not least Lotus, where continuing delays with the long-promised Quantum Motorsports money have put Pastor Maldonado, rather than Nico Hülkenberg, into the team for 2014.
Nico, methinks, must be getting a touch fed up with Pastor: three years ago, after a sparkling debut season with Williams, he was regretfully pushed out of the team by a sizeable Venezuelan cheque, and now it has happened for a second time.
If you take the big four – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren – out of the equation, this, as we know, is a time of strict financial pragmatism in Formula 1, and for many teams a matter of survival. Although it was long ago evident that Hülkenberg was the man Lotus wanted to replace Räikkönen, I can’t blame Eric Boullier or anyone else for going with Maldonado. For all the big talk in Austin from Mansour Ijaz, there remain doubts that the Quantum backing will ever materialise and Boullier could sit on his hands no longer. Lotus needs cash now (as Kimi and others can tell you), and therefore the commitment to Maldonado was made.
Like a great many others, I was very sorry it came to this. When I sat down to work out my Top Ten for 2013, as ever I rated the drivers on the basis of ‘what they did with what they had’, and I placed Hülkenberg third, behind only Vettel and Alonso – and therefore ahead of such as Räikkönen, Hamilton, Rosberg and Grosjean. Why was Romain as low as seventh? Because for all his scintillating drives in the second half of the season, he didn’t much impress in the first. In terms of results, the pattern of Nico’s season was very similar – for a long time Sauber was nowhere near the pace – but the quality of his performances was apparent from the first race to the last.
When Hamilton left for Mercedes at the end of 2012, it amazed me that McLaren passed up Hülkenberg for Sergio Pérez, and I was similarly disappointed last autumn when Ferrari, seeking to replace Felipe Massa, opted for Räikkönen. As great a driver as Kimi still is, Nico’s potential is boundless, and he could have been a Maranello
man for the ages.
As it is, after a single season away, he goes back to Force India, where it must be said they loved him first time around as they did not love Paul di Resta. My hope is that this team, which traditionally does a lot with relatively little, makes some kind of breakthrough in 2014, enabling Hülkenberg to play the central role his talent deserves. Remember his last drive in a Force India – Interlagos in 2012 – where he led briefly?
Of late the vexed question of cost-capping has been much to the fore again and, as we said earlier, the FIA has declared that such a strategy is to be introduced in January 2015. One hopes that by then all 11 teams will still be around to benefit.
Some, not all, have to pay for their engines, of course, and in 2014 that burden will be weightier by far than before, for now comes the arrival of the new-generation 1.6-litre V6 turbos, complete with ‘hybrid’ accoutrements, which – it is hoped – will bring horsepower up to the level of the discarded 2.4-litre V8s.
I greatly sympathise with the teams having to meet this additional financial outlay, but otherwise I have to say that, unlike some – and despite my misgivings about the ever-increasing focus on The Show – I can’t wait for the new F1. Bernie Ecclestone has long gone on about the importance of the sound of a Grand Prix engine, and I take his point, but frankly I won’t much miss those slightly hysterical V8s, which after a time blurred into deafening ‘white noise’. If you remember the deep bark of a Ferrari V12, you’ll know what I mean.
Come to that, I also rather cared for the sound of the last generation of turbocharged engines. Yes, the times were different, and the emphasis was on all-out horsepower, rather than cultivating a ‘green’ image for F1, but if the engine note was mellow, its potency was not disguised. I welcome the new F1, too, because racing desperately needs a shake-up, and until – inevitably – engine specifications are ‘frozen’ (as with the V8s), there is just a chance that horsepower will have its own part to play. Some folk give the impression there is something not quite nice about a power advantage, as if the only acceptable superiority is in downforce – cornering speed rather than straightline pace – but anyone who remembers Jarama back in 1981, when Gilles Villeneuve’s truck of a turbocharged Ferrari held off four much nimbler cars for 150 miles, will need no telling that this is baloney. I don’t know about you, but I have become bored with the focus on aerodynamics to the exclusion of all else.
There is, too, a concern that the new cars will be ugly, but that doesn’t worry me too much, for I didn’t look upon the last generation – particularly those with a ‘stepped nose’ – as objects of great beauty. The fact is, whatever their appearance, whatever their sound, they will become the norm, and we will swiftly get used to them, as we always have in the past.
Think back to 1998, when the ‘narrow track’ cars (reduced in width from two metres to 1.8) were introduced. When first I laid eyes on one, I thought it looked horrible, its proportions all wrong, but within a race or two I had ceased to be aware of it and now, when I see footage of races from long ago – such as the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, televised just the other day – the cars strike me as absurdly wide, as if the format of the TV screen were in need of adjustment.
Yes, it will undoubtedly take a little time to adjust to the new cars, but adjust we will, as we did four years ago when major wing changes – narrower and higher at the rear, hugely bigger and more elaborate at the front – were introduced. And think of 2010, when refuelling was thankfully banned, so that for the first time in 16 years the cars went to the grid with a heavy fuel load, and there was some uncertainty about how to conduct a 200-mile race in these circumstances.
The opening race of that season was in Bahrain, and it was as dreary a Grand Prix as I can remember, for not surprisingly the teams took an ultra-conservative approach, and there was a remarkable absence of racing. As we hung around the airport, awaiting our flights in the early hours of Monday, the general mood was anything but light, some already saying that the refuelling ban was a disaster, that a Grand Prix had been turned into an endurance race, that we needed to return to the old format as soon as practicable. As things turned out, though, this was the year when four drivers went to the last race with a shot at the World Championship.
Over the last few years the reliability of Grand Prix cars, with their frozen engine specs and conservative rev limit, has been truly astonishing, to a degree unknown in any previous era, and while that has had its benefits – plenty of cars circulating at any given time – so it has also served to reduce unpredictability, always a vital ingredient in any sport. When Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull suddenly slowed at Silverstone last July, then parked in front of the new pit complex,
I thought I was hallucinating.
Undoubtedly, at least for a while, the reliability of the new turbo V6s, together with their hybrid bits and pieces, will not be as we have taken for granted for so long, and I don’t necessarily see that as a great negative, so long as the engine failures are spread through the pack, and not concentrated on a particular manufacturer. Unpredictability again. Raw power might initially struggle to equal that of the outgoing normally aspirated V8s, but torque will be four times greater, which creates potential headaches for Pirelli, of course, but just might permit us the long-forgotten sight of a car ‘stepping out’…
One concern, of course, is that because fuel consumption is now limited to 100 litres a race, the drivers may – relatively – have to cruise some of the time, so as to be sure of making the finish. That was very much a phenomenon of the last turbo era, but the engineers suggest it will be far less of one this time around, and one trusts they are right.
For all the damn silly rules and gimmicks coming our way, I’m much looking forward to the start of something new. I just hope the World Championship is settled before Abu Dhabi.
While in Texas recently for the US Grand Prix, I was hardly surprised by the amount of space and time given over, in newspapers and on TV, to John F Kennedy, for the 50th anniversary of his assassination in a Dallas street was fast approaching.
At Barnes & Noble I bought an excellent book, appropriately entitled Where Were You? So seminal a happening in world history was this that everyone, it seems, can remember where they were, what they were doing, when they heard about JFK. I was looking at the school notice board when my shocked housemaster broke the news.
In terms of earth-shattering events that have occurred in my lifetime, I suppose that on November 22, 1963 was matched only by the catastrophe in New York City on September 11, 2001. That day I was having lunch in a pub with my late friend Christopher Hilton, and taking no particular notice of the small wall-mounted TV, whose sound was off. Then I glanced up to find that the routine programme had been interrupted; it seemed like something from a horror movie, but wasn’t.
Two days later I flew off to Milan for the Italian Grand Prix, which not surprisingly turned out to be as strange a weekend in a paddock as I can remember, and vividly came back to me the other day when Sky showed the race in its entirety.
Twelve years are light years when you’re young, but yesterday when you’re not, and I was stunned not only by the reminder of that weekend’s events but also by how much simpler Formula 1 was back then. Tyres, for example, were as good as the companies – Michelin and Bridgestone – could make them, and that seems novel in this day and age.
By 2001 we were three years into the ‘narrow track’ era, and had grown accustomed to the ‘pinched-in’ cars we now take for granted, but still six years away from the rule change that called for very different wings, at both front and rear. Grooved tyres were unsightly to behold, but otherwise the cars looked clean and uncluttered.
They also had 3-litre V10 engines, which in part explains why Juan Pablo Montoya’s 53 laps required 100 seconds fewer than Sebastian Vettel’s 53 last September. (In 2005, indeed, when he won for McLaren, JPM lopped a further two and a half minutes from his race time, averaging a remarkable 153.538mph.)
Montoya’s pole position lap at Monza in 2001 was 1min 22.216sec, compared with Vettel’s 2013 time of 1min 23.795sec. No surprise, then, that those who had experienced the V10 era found the 2.4-litre V8s anaemic. Anyone with experience of a mid-eighties turbo motor would have thought the handbrake was on.
If I remember the 2001 Italian Grand Prix as Montoya’s first F1 victory, it is the atmosphere in the paddock that comes back most of all. The felling of the Twin Towers had shocked everyone to their roots, and when Ralf Schumacher showed up on Thursday afternoon he made clear he thought it wrong that the race was being run; even more than that, he said, the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis (next on the schedule) should definitely be called off.
A little later his brother arrived in the press room for a conference. Over the years one had seen Michael jubilant, emotional to the point of tears, relaxed, angry, but now his face was blank, his voice barely audible. Like Ralf, he plainly didn’t want to be at Monza, and there were even rumours that he had asked Ferrari to put test driver Luca Badoer in his car.
At the request of Marlboro, all sponsor identification was removed from the Ferraris, and starkly beautiful they looked in plain Italian Racing Red, save for black on the nose.
What said everything about the underlying mood of the weekend was that what would ordinarily have been a big story – Mika Häkkinen’s decision not to race in 2002, and his replacement at McLaren by Kimi Räikkönen – was gone from the mind within minutes of its announcement.
The gloomy mood felt somehow all the greater in this setting, for ordinarily the paddock at Monza is exceptionally animated and good-humoured. This time around there was little chat, as unsmiling folk went about the routine business of preparing for a Grand Prix, wishing it to be over and done with.
Then it got worse by far. On Saturday afternoon, soon after the end of qualifying, news came in of Alex Zanardi’s appalling accident at the Lausitzring, and the effect of this on an already melancholy place was profound, reviving thoughts of Imola in 1994, when the disasters seemed without end. There were widely expressed concerns about Schumacher’s uncharacteristic behaviour, and suggestions that perhaps he would be wise not to drive.
For all his occasionally unattractive behaviour on the track, Michael we knew to be a fundamentally decent man, and none doubted the depth of his feelings for the victims of the Manhattan atrocity, and now for the plight of Zanardi. I, for one, would not have criticised him if he had withdrawn from the race, but instead he sought to persuade his fellow drivers to agree not to ‘race’ on the opening lap until after the second chicane.
No one needed reminding that the previous year a multiple accident at a chicane on the first lap had cost the life of a marshal, but still I thought Schumacher’s idea ill-conceived, to say the least: jangled nerves seemed to have got the better of common sense.
I remember asking Bernie Ecclestone for his thoughts on the matter, and his reply was much to the point: “The two chicanes shouldn’t be there in the first place – if they took them away, we wouldn’t have this bloody problem every time we come here…”
An admirable response in itself, it seemed to me, but not one that addressed the immediate problem.
Quite apart from anything else, however was Michael’s suggestion to be achieved? As and when the drivers, closely bunched, arrived at these two chicanes, who was to decide the order in which they should go through? To ask 22 Grand Prix drivers to put their instincts temporarily to one side was surely almost to guarantee an accident.
Perhaps cowed by the power of Schumacher, however, 21 of them agreed, with Jacques Villeneuve the lone dissenter. “We’re race car drivers,” he said. “We’re all very happy to sign contracts at the beginning of the season, and to earn millions of dollars. We’ve known all year there was to be a race at Monza, and nobody complained – until Sunday morning, when the discussion started. What you have to remember is that there are people in the grandstands who’ve saved their money for six months to see a race…”
The FIA stewards had no interest in giving their agreement to any ‘no-overtaking’ proposal, and once Villeneuve had made his attitude clear, the ringleaders, unable to realise unanimous support, reluctantly called off their ill-advised plan. As a consequence the first lap was considerably safer than an orchestrated one might have been – even if Michael began an overtaking move on his brother with two wheels on the grass…
Neither Schumacher, though, ever looked like winning this race. In the end they finished third and fourth, Ralf ahead, but the stars of the day were their team-mates, and Rubens Barrichello – on a two-stop strategy, to Montoya’s one – would probably have won, had it not been for a refuelling rig problem that cost him several seconds.
Juan Pablo, meantime, was suffering with blistered Michelins, coping with increasingly lurid oversteer until his single stop, after which a front wing adjustment gave him too much understeer.
In the closing laps Rubens was catching him, but the Colombian had the situation well in hand and took the flag five seconds to the good.
The Italian Grand Prix was actually a hell of a good race, far more so than we had had any right to expect, and one felt sympathy for Montoya, who had won for the first time, yet could hardly celebrate in time-honoured style. His team-mate, face blank on the podium, declined even to shake his hand.
M Schumacher, fourth, wasn’t there, of course, but was succinct in Ferrari’s post-race press release: “I’m glad this weekend is over,” he said. “The most important thing is that nothing bad happened this afternoon.”
Watching the race again, a dozen years on, I was reminded of just how quick Juan Pablo Montoya was, of how much we lost when he turned his back on F1 in 2006, and went off to waste – in my opinion – seven years of his career with a second-rate team in NASCAR.
I’ve talked to JPM many times about it since, and he has unfailingly – and vigorously – denied any regret of his decision, stressing how much he enjoyed the racing aspect of his new life, but still I find it difficult to comprehend how one who won at such as Monaco, Monza, Silverstone and Interlagos can have been other than frustrated in a midfield stock car.
Now, for 2014, Montoya is back in a single-seater again, with Roger Penske’s Indycar team, and few doubt that he will be bang on the pace. I can’t, though, help but lament the absence from F1 these many years of one of the greatest natural talents I ever saw.