"If I told a young guy all the stories about things that happened to me, he'd think: 'This guy is full of s***.' You need to leave the young guys to have these experiences and find out things for themselves."
Few drivers have exploded into Formula 1 with as big a bang as Juan Pablo Montoya did in 2001. Here he shares the highlights of his brief, bold, but brilliant career in an in-depth interview with AUTOSPORT's sister magazine F1 Racing.
Normally, our lunch interviews are planned in advance. This one happened in a hurry - which, in many ways, is fitting, given its subject.
Juan Pablo Montoya has always been more off-the-cuff than slow and circumspect. So when F1 Racing spotted him making a surprise appearance in the GP2 paddock at Monza, the invitation to a lunchtime chat was extended and accepted. The same day. In the GP2 hospitality centre. In the hour between sessions.
I was wary at first. Previous interviews with JPM had not gone well. I recalled one occasion in Montreal, about 10 years earlier, when a session with the microphone for BBC Radio 5 Live merely proved that he was talking under sufferance at the behest of his team. Riveting was not a description that sprang to mind.
This time I was assured he was on good form, relaxed and far removed from the pressures associated with wearing a race suit. And so it proved.
Montoya is back in IndyCar and still winning in 2014 © LAT
There was fertile ground to be covered: Williams and McLaren; winning seven GPs and scoring 13 pole positions; in the running for the title; seven full seasons in NASCAR; a return to IndyCar as a past champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, now racing for the legendary Roger Penske. Plenty for him to talk about with that engaging rat-a-tat-tat delivery...
Maurice Hamilton: It's nice to see you again - particularly here at Monza. This place must hold good memories for you, what with you winning twice here and so on.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Yeah, I suppose it does. I'm not really what you would call a history guy, but I see it in other people. An Italian friend of mine is very passionate about it. When I said I was coming here to help with the GP2 guys, he got all excited because of what you're saying - because it's Monza.
It's the same when I go to Indy. They say: "Oh my God; you won here! You're an Indy 500 champion!" It's huge. So, yes, it's nice. I've seen a lot of the guys. I've seen [Sir] Frank [Williams] for example - that was exciting. It was nice to see Ron [Dennis] as well.
JPM: Yeah, it was! Really, really nice. I saw Ron when he went to a NASCAR race because McLaren were doing the ECUs for NASCAR. He was really nice then and it's been the same here. It was also good to see Claire Williams. And I've met a lot of the mechanics because they move around from team to team, but they're still here.
MH: Claire would have been your press officer when you were racing with Williams.
Montoya's greatest years were with Williams, including a 2003 Monaco win © LAT
JPM: Yes, she was. Jeez, it's impressive at Williams. They've done a really nice job.
MH: Interesting you say that, because you will notice the difference.
JPM: Listen, to get shit right is really hard; to get shit wrong is really easy. There's a hundred ways to get it wrong and five ways to get it right.
Once you start going downhill, the hardest thing is stopping going further downhill. In America we say: "How do you stop the bleeding?" When you do that, it's OK because once you start getting momentum in the right direction the atmosphere changes; people start to get excited.
But when you're designing the car or working in the windtunnel or building a car and coming up with things - and nothing works, that just demotivates the hell out of people.
It applies to everyone. People talk just about the driver but the passion is the same for the whole team - and I mean motor racing in general, not just F1. It's not a routine job because there are all the extra hours to deal with; it's tough.
But when things go right, the people working on the front suspension or whatever get just as excited as the guy driving the car - even though he gets all the credit. When you win, it's you; when you lose, it's the car.
Montoya beats Stewart man Ralph Firman away in a Formula 3 race at Thruxton in 1996 © LAT
One of the hardest things about motor racing is learning to win and lose together as a team. When you achieve that, it's a big step forward.
MH: Did you feel that, right from the early days in, say, Formula 3?
JPM: To be honest, no. You drive the hell out of the car, and that's it. I thought I always did a good job of figuring out what I wanted from a car and how to achieve that.
One of the biggest lessons I had in life was Jackie Stewart driving us at Oulton Park. He changed my career.
MH: Really? Was that in a touring car?
JPM: Yeah, a Ford Escort Cosworth. He took six of us - people like Allan McNish, Ralph Firman, Jonny Kane - and we drove the cars around Oulton Park. Jackie went out and was seven tenths quicker than anybody. It was impressive.
So, it's my turn to get in the car with him. After a few laps he says: "OK, let me show you." It feels like he's driving at five miles an hour, then we come into the pits. My dad is there and he says: "That was the fastest lap!" I'm like: "What the f*** are you talking about? He was doing five miles an hour!" It was unbelievable.
Then I have another go. We're going through that double-right hander [Druids] and the back comes out and I'm thinking: 'I'm not crashing with Jackie Stewart next to me!' It was a massive tail-slap and I actually saved it.
Williams test invitations were Montoya's big break © LAT
I thought I was going to get into so much trouble. But he just said: "Very good car control. Just calm down, do it slower and smoother. You don't want to upset the car." He was so smooth and he really made that point. It was a big wake-up call.
MH: So, how do you respond to the fact that people say you're quite aggressive at the wheel?
JPM: Yeah, people say that, but I don't think I am. I used to be. I felt I always tried to maximise everything out of a corner, and it might have looked aggressive. But if you look at the in-car videos, my hands are not going all over the place.
MH: I had an interesting experience with Jackie at Donington Park when Ford were launching the Sierra 4x4 in the late 1980s. I was driving and there's a long fast left on the bottom of the circuit. I couldn't get it right.
So Jackie tells me on the next lap when we get to the corner to keep my foot on the throttle and release my grip on the steering. I do that and this hand comes across from the passenger seat, gently takes the bottom of the steering wheel and guides us through on the perfect line - at about 90mph.
I couldn't believe it. I was gobsmacked. It was as smooth as silk whereas I had been all over the place. And I had been sitting behind the wheel!
JPM: He talks a lot about the importance of balancing the car, doesn't he?
Two feisty F3000 seasons ended in the 1998 title © LAT
MH: He did. Going back to this business of aggression, I think I know what you're getting at, because at times you looked aggressive. I'm thinking of Formula 3000 at Monaco in 1998. You were coming through the field and as soon as you caught someone, it was very clear you were going to overtake. And you did. You looked aggressive. That's what we could see from the outside.
JPM: Yeah, and inside it's just really calm. One thing I've learned to talk about with my engineer is the fine line between being very smooth and going too slow.
You've got to be careful not to be too nice. You need to become a lot smarter, but smarter doesn't always mean faster. I'm very conscious of that.
Especially in NASCAR; you have to back off and give it what I call car time. In IndyCar, you've got to hustle it. So, I've had to get back to hustling this year. But there's a hustle that is fast and a hustle that burns fuel and tyres in a race and means you're not going anywhere. You've got to smooth it out: it's a fine line.
MH: You made a big impression as a hustler when you took the lead from Michael Schumacher going into the first turn in your third F1 race at Brazil in 2001. That was a big, big moment for many reasons.
JPM: We'd had a restart - and I was really good at restarts. I knew we had a little more top end [in the Williams-BMW]. Coming onto the straight, I was thinking: 'If you brake early, I'm going for it'. We were braking on the 150 [metre board]. He braked on the 170 and I just went for it.
MH: In that race, you were hit from behind by Jos Verstappen. You could have won.
Montoya makes his mark on F1 with his infamous pass on Schumacher in the 2001 Brazilian GP © LAT
JPM: You say that, but you guys are reporters. You look at it and say: "He could have won it." But it might not have been like that because it rained. The Michelin wets were terrible back then because Michelin were just starting.
Maybe it was a missed chance, but I never get too excited about anything. Jackie told me you don't want to get over-excited about stuff because if you do and you get it wrong, you get depressed.
If you expect to win and you have a shit weekend, mentally you destroy yourself. If you control your expectations and you do better, then you're happier. Some of the guys I work with say that when I bitch a lot, they know we're going to run really, really well.
MH: Do you think this is a problem that maybe Lewis Hamilton has had? Because his emotions seem quite extreme at times?
JPM: He's got a lot of pressure from the British media. I mean, the guy does a burp and the story is blown up big-time in England. And this is playing into [Nico] Rosberg's hands.
All this shit about Rosberg doing it on purpose [the second lap collision] at Spa. No way he did that on purpose! You know there's only about a 20 per cent chance you're going to give the guy a flat tyre but an 80 per cent chance you're going to break your front wing. He just miscalculated.
Montoya thinks Hamilton's emotions are sometimes too raw © XPB
Lewis is a great guy; a great driver. He's got a lot of talent, but you have to be careful. A lot of times, when you run off with your mouth, it bites you back. It happened to me; it happens to everybody. You're better letting the driving do the talking.
MH: You got your first win here at Monza in 2001. How did you feel about that? Job done and move on? Or something quite special?
JPM: It was nice; more like: 'About friggin' time!' I'd had podiums and there were a few times I should have won, such as Germany where I had a 30-second lead and they didn't put the fuel in the car. But then you have instances like Spain where I was fourth, a lap down on Mika Hakkinen - and he broke down on the last lap. Oh wow, first podium! Thank you. I'll take that.
MH: Going back to Jackie Stewart; he likes to compartmentalise emotion...
JPM: You have to.
MH: So how did you deal with 2002 when you had no wins?
JPM: I had tonnes of podiums [seven] and five poles in a row. It was frustrating but it gets to a point where you learn to deal with it.
The 2002 season was eventful but win-less for Montoya © XPB
What I'm saying is, if I told a young guy all the stories about things that happened to me, he'd think: 'This guy is full of shit.' I thought that about Jackie when he told me everything. You need to leave the young guys to have these experiences and find out things for themselves.
That's what I was going through and it makes you a better person; a better driver. You get to understand a lot of things. When you're in F1 as a young driver, you never look at the big picture.
MH: Because you're so focused?
JPM: Yeah, but you focus on the wrong stuff because you get caught up in the moment. If someone could teach you to look at the bigger picture, you would understand that there are times when things happen and you've got to learn to accept it.
It should be mandatory to have people run NASCAR for a year because they've got bumpers and, if you race like an idiot, they'll get you out of the friggin' way. They'll teach you to respect the people you're racing. It's something you don't learn in Europe, but it makes racing so much better.
MH: What about 2003? It was right here at Monza that the whole Michelin thing kicked off. You and Williams were in the running for the championship and Bridgestone complained about your tyres [claiming the Michelin tread widths were too wide and illegal when the car was at speed]. Changes had to be made and it all started to go wrong.
JPM: It's always been bad when the politics are involved in racing. But it happens. I can honestly tell you, I don't regret anything I've done. I feel I'm lucky and blessed to have been able to do everything I've done. And I feel there is a lot of fuel left in the tank - so it's pretty cool.
Montoya stunned F1 when he left for NASCAR © LAT
MH: How old are you now?
MH: And you're still really hungry for racing.
JPM: F*** yeah!
MH: Did you ever think maybe you could have done F1 for a little bit longer?
JPM: Why? At that point , I didn't want to be at McLaren, and there was nowhere else to be. Thinking about my family and everything else, it was the best move to go to America.
That's been brilliant. I love everything about it. NASCAR was hard, but it was a good experience; I learnt a lot.
And the chance to be with Roger Penske has been amazing. I would describe it as like being with McLaren, but with Frank Williams in charge.
It's like you're part of a family. It's the best team I've been with, and I've been in a lot of great teams. I'm not saying this because it's where I am now. Being with Penske is... overwhelming.
Montoya has huge respect for Penske © LAT
MH: And is Roger hands-on?
JPM: Like you wouldn't believe. He actually calls the races on Helio's [Castroneves] car. He's the guy on the pitwall.
Amazing when you think he does the races and travels to Germany for a breakfast, lunch in the UK, dinner in Spain and then he goes to another race. Next week he's in Australia.
I can honestly say that if you had to pick someone as an example in life, if you can admire anybody in life, it's got to be Roger.
MH: Praise indeed. Is it a wow factor? Or is it just the way he carries himself and does things?
JPM: Everything about him; everything. He's got such a passion for motorsport but the important thing is that this is not his business. And yet his business is handled the same way. I've been to a couple of his dealerships and they're pristine; absolutely amazing. Everything's got to be right.
MH: Things weren't so right with Williams at Magny-Cours in 2003 when you thought they were having you over with the pitstop strategy and you let them know on the radio. You received a formal letter from Frank about your outburst. What do you think about that now?
Montoya says goodbye to Williams with a win in Brazil in 2004 © LAT
JPM: It was just passion. Everybody's got a point of view and I'm very outspoken. I told them what I thought. It's complicated. I need to write a book some day and include all those stories. But I'd get in a lot of trouble if I did that!
MH: No such problems in Brazil 2004 when you won your last race with Williams, beating Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren in a straight fight before going to join McLaren. That must have been nice.
JPM: Yeah, it was. I've got that car at home.
MH: But not with the Walrus tusk nose?
JPM: With a newer nose, yeah. Although I've actually got the old nose as well.
MH: Can't imagine what you'd want to do with that! Looks aren't everything though. You had at least one poor McLaren. How do you look back on your days with Ron's team?
JPM: They were good. OK, we went through a tough phase because in the first year, I hated the car. It was really, really hard but we got it better and finally came up with the suspension and package that made the car nice to drive.
MH: I did a book with McLaren for their 50th anniversary and I talked to people like Phil Prew who was your race engineer in 2005. He said you were his favourite driver because you were so fast and had an amazing feel for the car. And, I should add, because he thought you were a nice guy.
The Colombian's McLaren sojourn got off to a messy start © LAT
He quoted the race at Interlagos in 2005. You were on a different strategy to Kimi and you were going for the undercut. But you had to do quali laps for five laps before Kimi came in.
JPM: Yeah, I remember. I was asking how many more laps do I have to do like this? Man, I was right on the edge. And it's: "One more! One more! Keep going!" Kimi got out just in front but I got him round Turn 4. That was nice!
Having a relationship like that [with Prew] is like what I have now with the guys at Penske. They want it just as bad as I do, or more. When you have somebody like that working next to you, it's exciting.
It's not about how many hours you work at it because the intensity level keeps getting higher, and higher. I'm good at coming up with things and, when they come together, it's amazing. I love looking at problems and asking how we can make them better. We try things and they don't work. Then all of a sudden they do.
It's about trust working both ways and, with Phil, it was the same. I trust them 100 per cent. And if I say something, they trust me 100 per cent. That's where you get the drive to kick everybody's ass. When you have that drive, it's amazing. I spent a lot of hours in the simulator; we worked on it and worked on it.
MH: That reminds me, Phil also told me the story of the 2005 British GP when you flew back to the factory on the Friday night, spent time on the simulator, went back to Silverstone, changed the car from the lessons learned - and won the race.
Montoya storms around the outside of Alonso in the 2005 British GP © LAT
JPM: Yeah, that's a good example of what I'm talking about. I beat Fernando Alonso!
MH: Yes, he was on his way to his first title with Renault. You went round the outside of the first corner...
JPM: I called that, before the race.
MH: You did, I remember. You weren't in the championship position at that point and Fernando was, so he had a bit more to lose.
JPM: Exactly. I thought: 'If I get a good start [from the second row], I'm not backing off.' It's fun when you can do that.
MH: Your reputation suffered over the business of the injured shoulder that kept you out of two races in 2005. How bad was the shoulder?
JPM: It was bad. It was what it was. It was hard; I thought it was a pain when I came back to Spain because I didn't want to start at the back at Monaco. That's why I did Spain and we had a horrible weekend.
MH: You were still struggling.
JPM: F*** yeah. I had injections for a long time to numb the pain.
MH: Was it the bumps or the G-forces, or a combination of everything?
JPM: Anything and everything.
MH: You raced against a lot of really great guys in F1. Who stood out?
Montoya shared plenty of podiums with Schumacher © LAT
JPM: Michael [Schumacher] was really good. During his time at Ferrari he and the car were unbeatable. So, if you had a chance of beating him, you would give it to him 100 per cent.
MH: And what about Ralf when you were team-mates at Williams? He was at a high level by then.
JPM: Ralf? When I started, it was unbelievable. He was hard. In my first few tests, I got my arse kicked so badly it wasn't even funny. It's not like you're not trying; you're driving as hard as you can and every time you push, he goes another four-tenths [faster].
You start getting closer, to two tenths - then he goes hard and makes it eight tenths again. You look at the data and it's like: 'He's braking later, rolling faster through the corners, how the hell is he doing that?' It takes about three years in F1 to get really good at it.
Don't forget, we didn't have simulators back then in 2001. But I remember when we went to China for the first time in 2004, in first practice I was over a second quicker than anybody else. That was because I knew exactly what to do now that we had simulators. I just went out and braked where I had on the simulator; everything was as expected and that was it. Simple.
A classic Montoya F1 scene: dicing with Schumachers © XPB
The hardest thing is that when a car suits you, you are going to beat your team-mate but when the car doesn't suit you, you're going to get your arse kicked.
It's a matter of figuring out how to make the car drive the way you want. When I started at Williams, the car was more how Ralf wanted it. That made it hard for me because they would just get close to what Ralf would want and go from there. It got to the point where I couldn't get close to Ralf because I couldn't drive the car.
Then we finally started changing the car to what I wanted. At Suzuka they changed the front cambers because the outside of the tyres were wearing too much. I went out in the morning for the first run and couldn't drive the thing.
It was like: "What the f*** have you done to it?" They changed the camber back and it was a different car. When you fine-tune and you're comfortable with the car, it makes a big difference. The more comfortable you are, the easier it is. That's where 80 per cent of your feel comes from.
When I went to McLaren, I did an installation lap and thought something was broken in the car. The suspension made it so hard to drive. We went through a long process of getting the car to where it needed to be and that's where Phil was really good. We worked really well together.
MH: Talking of feeling comfortable, it's a nice atmosphere in this GP2 paddock, isn't it?
JPM: Yeah, it's amazing how much it's changed from when I was here [in F3000]. I don't remember all this.
MH: I remember a story Christian Horner once told us. Christian says you finished his racing career, because, I think it was Hockenheim where he said he thought he was doing well - fifth or something - and you came by on the main straight, basically locked up on the grass to pass him, then just carried on and disappeared.
He saw what you did and realised he'd never be able to race at that level. Basically, in his head, he quit there and then; he said: 'That's it, I can't race any more.' It's all your fault!
JPM: Speaking of Hockenheim, I always qualified badly there. But it was a big track and I could race really well. The first time we were there [in F3000] it was raining. I was on the long straight after the start and I saw a wing coming at me - like really quick. So I turned, went into the grass - and by the time I made it to the first chicane, I'd passed 15 friggin' cars!
MH: I think I've heard Frank talk about that before and he apparently said: "Who's this Juan Pablo Montoya? We must give him a drive."
JPM: I think it was then, yes. I always take advantage of any opportunities given to me. I always try to show what I can do. When I had my first F1 test in the Williams, that was the best, easiest car I've ever had to drive. It was Jacques Villeneuve's car from 1997. Just so solid. Like we had power brakes - it was unreal! You put tyres on it, keep going, keep going, and just keep going faster and the thing never bites.
Trouble was, this was on the old Barcelona track, before they put in the chicane, so the last corner was a downhill right-hander and really quick. The G-forces were high and I wasn't used to it. You go to turn your head right - and it goes left. Then your head doesn't lean but, because you're accelerating, it goes back. It was bad. You're like: "Where's the kerb?" The car was amazing. I was pretty fast, but my neck was screwed up. I couldn't do 10 laps in the car.
MH: You've come a long way since then. It's been great to have the chance to reflect on it with you. Thanks for your time.
JPM: I'm really enjoying this weekend. It's been a good time to catch up. Thanks.
This feature also appears in the latest issue of F1 Racing magazine, along with a plea to keep Jenson Button in Formula 1, Peter Windsor on why Ferrari needs to follow Red Bull's example, an analysis of the car that revitalised Williams and much more