Juan Pablo Montoya doesn't give a fuck if you or I think his season is already over this year.
But don't just take my word for it, take his: "I don't give a fuck. Sorry about that word, but I don't really care; that's what the media is all about." Montoya had stomped into Williams' refrigerated offices on the Friday before the race, coming in from the balmy Malaysian afternoon swinging, starting as he meant to go on. The trigger for his ire was a seemingly innocuous inquiry as to whether or not it annoyed him to hear people writing him off after only one race.
"They put attention on things and it can get inside your head," he continued, warming to the theme, "but you've just got to be positive and go for it, you've got to go for it in every race. You never know how many points you're going to score in a season, so you've got to score as many as possible today."
Montoya has won a legion of fans for doing just that; getting into whatever car his team provides him with and just going for it, not to mention speaking candidly to anyone who would listen before and after throwing it around the track. For his entire Formula One career Montoya has been spoken of as a future champion, as the guy that could finally take on Michael Schumacher and beat him at his own game, and although the two have had a number of battles on and off the track, the Colombian has yet to take the title.
Early this year, just like every other year in recent memory, the pundits have crowed that finally the Ferrari number was up and the red team was headed downhill. At the launch late in January journalists were united in claiming that the Ferrari was underwhelming, remarkably unimproved in the face of the dramatic new walrus tusked beast the squad at Grove had dreamed up. Surely, they said, this year was Montoya's year.
Obviously no one told the Maranello brigade; they came straight out of the box and won the first three races.
Cue a large number of anguished cries around the world as various team principals, journalists and fans alike stared at their television screens and asked as one 'how did that happen?' But, having been invested with so much faith by so many people, what did Montoya himself make of the red wash? Was he surprised at Ferrari's pace in Melbourne, or at how comparatively slow his mount was? "No," Montoya stated emphatically, leaning into the table as if for emphasis. "Me, I'm not. We're quick, although we're not as quick as we wanted to be, but it's not like we're ten (spots) away, you know."
Ferrari enjoyed, and then some, a one-two finish in Melbourne, with thirty seconds of air back to a distant Fernando Alonso in third, and everyone up to the points lapped by Schumacher. Montoya, apparently not surprised by this, was fifth, a light year away. Did he really expect Ferrari to come back and spank the rest of the field so publicly? "No; (in Melbourne) they were really strong and it surprised everybody; the track really suited them a lot and they've always been very hard to beat there. But the season goes on and things change, and there are another 17 races so...
"It would be nice to take big points from race one, but if it doesn't then you go on, and when they come, they come. Last season it took five races to take some points, so we'll see."
DC: But last season was a bit different; it seemed last year that the team had a good car but they didn't quite understand it and it took a while to work up to that understanding; is it the same problem this year?
JPM: No, it's not as extreme. And we're quicker; I qualified last year in third (in Melbourne), and this year as well, but it is a bit different and that's what we have to deal with.
DC: It's hard to really tell a lot about where the teams are from winter testing; you might know where you are, but you won't necessarily know where Michael is. Considering that how do you now think the season is going to go?
JPM: I think we've got an idea how we're going to go, but we've got no idea how they're going to go. We know we've got a better car than last year, but they know they've got a better car than last year as well. The thing is Ferrari has got a step on everybody, but as long as you don't do a major step, big enough to get there, you're going to go here (hold left hand low) and they're going to go here (raises right hand), and it's going to go on until someone makes a major step.
How are Things at Williams?
If things weren't bad enough with Ferrari playing "follow my lead", there is that whole Montoya and Williams at loggerheads problem, apparently all caused by his move to McLaren at the end of the season. Certain parts of the media have had an almost unholy glee in pointing towards a cessation of talk between team and driver. Although Montoya himself hasn't noticed it so far, oddly enough: "Things are okay; they're the same as every year. It hasn't changed at all."
So Montoya is either blissfully unaware of any rift between himself and the team he is leaving, or he's glossing over the problem for the media. To be fair, it has to be pointed out that there doesn't really seem to be a problem from the outside; after the race in Bahrain (a race which would have tried the patience of any driver given the gearbox problem which cancelled out a certain podium finish) Sam Michael and Montoya were chatting away as though nothing untoward had just occurred on track.
But surely things will become a little different towards the end of the season? "Oh, I think probably towards the end of the year it will, of course" Montoya agreed. "I'm sure there are two tests booked towards the end of October, and I'm pretty sure I won't be asked to be there!"
The problem, and it's a fairly sizeable one, with that sort of behaviour, is that if you are challenging for a World Championship towards the business end of the series, then that is exactly when you need your team behind you the most. "I think in racing the team will be 100% behind me. You know, if they go only behind one driver, and their ultimate goal is the Constructor's Championship, then to win the Constructor's then they need both drivers there."
DC: So how would that work? Williams don't want to give anything away to McLaren, so would they just say 'you can get in the car, but you're not allowed to look at these new bits'?
JPM: Yeah, but a lot of things are internal; at BMW everything is internal.
DC: So you wouldn't even necessarily notice if there was a change?
JPM: Well, I would probably feel more power, but I wouldn't be able to see what it is!
DC: How much could you honestly take to McLaren over with you?
JPM: I'm not interested in taking anything over.
DC: But from a knowledge point of view...
JPM: My knowledge is the knowledge of a driver; how the car behaves and that's it. I could get into a car and say 'we need to improve this, we need to improve that', but I'm not going to say this 'oh it's different', because the day I go to McLaren they're going to know I could do the same thing when I leave McLaren, so it's the same thing with the next team if I ever leave McLaren. You've got to be straightforward, and I think it would be wrong against Williams and wrong against McLaren if you do that.
Montoya is caught slightly between a rock and a hard place; the team he is currently driving for is being beaten by Ferrari again, but not as badly as the team he is signed to go to next year. "I'm not driving for McLaren yet!" he laughed, leaning back in his chair and slapping his feet onto the table. "But yeah; I think we can do better than that, and hopefully we can show some sort of better performance here."
DC: Looking at where McLaren are at the moment in comparison to Williams, does that make you worry slightly about the future?
JPM: No. You know, when I went to Williams they were nowhere, and we have brought up the team quite a lot forward. So it would be nice if I could go over to a winning car, but if we don't it's all the same; we've got to work with the team to make sure we've got a better car and do what's needed to push the team forward.
DC: How much improvement can a team make in a year? Formula One is engineered so highly, and it seems that it's not the work to get to about 97%, but that extra few percent is so difficult to get through.
JPM: Yeah, but it's not just two or three percent; it's always going up. You see, the cars at every race have new things, even if you don't notice; every race there's a little bit here, a little bit there, and it just keeps increasing, and it's the rate that you keep increasing that makes the difference.
DC: Well sure; Williams, McLaren or whoever improve every year; in Melbourne you were faster than last year; but there's always going to be that improvement...
JPM: Well, if you look at the laptimes from last year to this year, this year was smaller even though I made a mistake.
DC: How do you think the relationship between you and the team is going to be over there? It's very different team to Williams.
JPM: I'll find out when I get there, but so far so good.
DC: Have you spoken much to Ron, or do you see him a lot?
JPM: That's none of your business!
DC: I just mean...
JPM: Exactly; none of your business!
One Horse Town
Ferrari is a one horse team: discuss. This is the essay topic millions around the globe have taken up as their own, debating vociferously the merits of putting all of a team's eggs into one basket rather than sharing all of the resources of a team across both cars and letting the best man win. It's an argument that will run and run, and one that has filtered up to the various teams in the championship.
Montoya is in no doubt that Michael Schumacher has been handed his lot on a plate, but does he think that the German's teammate can take the fight to him? "I think Rubens has been getting into Michael more and more and more, and I think if he can just get that last bit out of him and start outqualifying Michael it's going to really get into Michael's head. It would be nice to see that." The thought put a broad smile on his face as the Colombian considered his fellow South American taking the fight to his more fancied rival.
DC: What do you think is the best way to take on Michael - in a different team or in the same team?
JPM: Having a quicker car than Michael and winning - that's the way he's done it to everybody else.
DC: Do you think you're better off facing him from Williams, or next to him?
JPM: If we were both in Williams it would be a different story than if we were both in Ferrari.
DC: Why? Because this is your team and Ferrari is his?
JPM: No, because this is the team where you are 100% sure you're going to get equal things; you know, I've never been there but from everything you hear they don't! (laughs)
DC: How does that work do you think? That has always been the rumour, but if they are making a mould for a new part then the cost is in the mould or design, not the manufacture of the extra parts.
JPM: It's about timing, not about money. I think if they've found something, and they found it in the week before the race, then they don't have the time to make all of the pieces for all the cars. They might only have the time to make one piece; the way they develop is they're happy just to give one piece to Michael probably, and at the next race the two cars get the same piece, or Michael with something newer again. I don't know how they work; I'm not involved in that; but that could be a way to work.
DC: Does that sort of thing ever pop up in Williams?
JPM: It has done in the past, yeah, and whoever's ahead gets it; simple. Whoever is ahead in the points gets it; it's obvious. The first year when the B chassis came out on the 23, that was for Spa, Ralf had the car and I put it on pole in the A (laughs). Just to wind him up!
Another amusing parlour game for Formula One fans worldwide is to guess the name of Montoya's replacement next year at Williams; it's not every year that a top line drive becomes available, mores the pity, and most fans relish the idea of their favourite stepping up to the main event. So who would Montoya see as a suitable replacement? "Don't ask me that!" he howled, amused. "Even if I knew who they were going to sign I wouldn't tell you!"
DC: No, but who would you put in there?
JPM: Don't know, don't care. I'm not going to be here; it ain't going to be my decision, is it? I think Frank, the same way he took me, he'll find somebody else as well, and I'm sure they'll find somebody good.
When did it all happen?
There has been some debate about when, where, why and how the Montoya to McLaren move was initiated, and although the end result is the same (Montoya in silver overalls next year) there are still question marks surrounding the move (and more, it seems, are on the way given the relative performance of the two teams). Many pundits have made noise about Montoya's supposed love of Mercedes as a major factor in the move. "Oh, I'm not such a big fan," he answered, "I do like driving Mercedes - I'm not going to lie - who doesn't enjoy that? And I like driving BMWs as well.
"No, I mean it'll be cool, just like it's cool to race for BMW."
But what of the link to one of Montoya's childhood heroes, Ayrton Senna? Is it important to him to be driving for the spiritual home of his great hero? "No, nothing. It's not important at all."
The other main speculation focuses around last year's French Grand Prix, where Montoya made it abundantly clear that he was unhappy with the team and everything attached to it. But did McLaren come knocking before or after the race?
"Before" Montoya mumbled, under his breath.
DC: Just before?
JPM: No (long pause). Before Magny Cours.
Williams ran IRL champion Scott Dixon in a last minute test in Paul Ricard two weeks ago, and without any previous time in the car he lapped with 0.4sec of Ralf Schumacher. It was a prequel to a bigger test in Barcelona this week, and it seemed to indicate he has the talent. That's one more name on the already long list of potential replacements.
"I think he's got plenty of speed, but the last two years he's spent going around ovals," Montoya says of Dixon.
DC: I guess that's the problem with America; its lead series is just ovals now, so it's difficult to take someone like you from there anymore.
JPM: Yeah, but we'll see; I think if you've still got the talent you should be okay, so we'll see.
DC: Was it something you had thought about before then, or was it the French...
JPM: Yeah. I think everyone thinks I left because of the Magny Cours race, but it was a lot of things that add up. When you have a relationship, and I've said this about a hundred times, when you have a relationship with a girlfriend then sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and it gets to a point where you say 'I've had enough - that's it'. And it's like that; I got to a point where I thought one more year at Williams would be good, but I want to try something new and see what happens. Now it might be McLaren will be like the ideal girlfriend, might be not, you know (smiles)?
Sidebar: Bigmouth Strikes Again
Not only does Montoya have to race his rivals on track to gain success, but increasingly the battle is raging off track as well. Eddie Irvine, not noted for keeping his opinions to himself when he can sell them to a newspaper for the amusement of others, has recently declared war on the Colombian (and his teammate Ralf Schumacher) in his column in British tabloid The Sun.
DC: Did you see the comments from Eddie Irvine before the season?
DC: He said the Williams pairing was dumb and dumber.
JPM: Well, we're driving and he's not (laughs)!
DC: He was criticising you both for making silly mistakes and so on.
JPM: Well, I think for someone who never really did it it's hard for them to really comment on it.
DC: It's just nice to see him mouthing off again!
JPM: Well he always did that; he's always been better at that than driving (smiles broadly).