Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature

Friday favourite: The “perfect” F1 test venue with a little bit of “magic”

Jerez is most famous in car racing circles for hosting Formula 1’s dramatic 1997 title decider. But its driving challenge also stands out for a stalwart Renault tester who became a regular visitor during a period of unrestricted running

Franck Montagny, Renault R24

“I really love this track,” says Franck Montagny of the Jerez circuit in southern Spain. “I remember my chief engineer in Renault’s test team was always saying ‘if there was a championship of 15 races in Jerez, you are world champion every year’.”

The Frenchman never raced at the track he picks out as his favourite, but relished every time he got to drive it testing Formula 1 machinery between 2002 and 2007. That’s just as well, because he completed just shy of 5,000 laps of the circuit for Renault, Toyota and Force India, including 2,312 tours across 22 days in 2005 alone.

“It suits a lot the Renault car at this time,” says Montagny, who started seven grands prix for Super Aguri in 2006 when Yuji Ide’s superlicence was revoked. “It’s an old track, bumpy, there’s no big hotel on the side, so I understand that people don’t really love it. But I tell you, it was a magic track. I always had a lot of pleasure there.”

After hosting seven F1 grands prix between 1986 and 1997, Jerez had become a popular test venue during the era of unrestricted running in the early-to-mid 2000s. As Michelin tyre testing was typically the order of the day during Montagny’s spell at Renault, both in dry conditions and wet when the track was specially sprayed, he was mostly driving with new rubber and had “always full capacity of the car” on the track’s prevalence of medium and high-speed corners.

“It was really cool,” says Montagny wistfully. “Jerez is perfect for an F1 car – it’s dry, sunny, hot, you can work easily and there are all the corners you need to develop the car. It’s a perfect place and you get the good jamon!”

He singles out the “really exciting” double-left at Turns 7 and 8 that follow the Turn 6 hairpin where Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve famously came to blows in 1997 as his favourite point of the circuit. The first was taken flat, before dropping one gear on the “demanding” second left that leads into a sequence of right-handers interrupted by a chicane installed at the site of Martin Donnelly’s horrifying accident in 1990.

Montagny believes Jerez has every necessary feature for F1 car testing

Montagny believes Jerez has every necessary feature for F1 car testing

Photo by: Edd Hartley

Montagny’s first visit to Jerez in December 2002 was memorable. It marked the occasion of the 2001 Formula Nissan champion’s first Renault test outing, and he concedes that “special feeling with Jerez maybe comes from there”.

Montagny was entrusted with sharing the running with the team’s 2003 race drivers Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli plus reigning Formula 3000 champion Sebastien Bourdais. However, in the belief it was primarily motivated by a desire for the team to earn good publicity from the French press for supporting promising homegrown talents, he didn’t pin his hopes on it translating into anything concrete.

“I was not thinking anymore about F1,” says Montagny, who had plumped for Formula Nissan after two unfulfilling seasons of F3000 in 2001 due to a lack of alternative options. “Suddenly they called me to do that. It was like, ‘what?’ I was not counting on it, because I knew it was fake.”

"Jerez is perfect for an F1 car – it’s dry, sunny, hot, you can work easily and there are all the corners you need to develop the car"
Franck Montagny

He initially felt vindicated when Allan McNish was hired as Renault’s Friday driver for 2003. Although Montagny was also brought into the fold as a tester, he was largely kept on the bench and didn’t drive the R23 until July.

“But in the end, I was wrong,” he says. “When you have the opportunity to get in an F1 car, you have to take it. You never know what can happen after.”

As Montagny wrapped up a second Dallara Nissan title, so his Renault mileage gradually increased over the final four months of 2003. He completed 12 days across Barcelona, Valencia and Jerez before being appointed as the team’s third driver for 2004, when he completed 54 days, 23 of which came at Jerez.

Jerez is enshrined in Montagny's mind as the first track he tested for Renault in 2002, which parlayed into a more regular gig

Jerez is enshrined in Montagny's mind as the first track he tested for Renault in 2002, which parlayed into a more regular gig

Photo by: James Moy

His last outing in an F1 car before concentrating on sportscars with Peugeot also came at the Spanish track in December 2007, when Montagny joined Giancarlo Fisichella for an evaluation with the newly-renamed Force India squad.

Christian Klien, Ralf Schumacher, Tonio Liuzzi, Giedo van der Garde and Roldan Rodriguez were all subsequently rotated through the rebadged Spyker F8-VIIB to audition for the drive alongside former Renault man Fisichella that was ultimately retained by Adrian Sutil. Montagny recalls that an issue with his seat on his first set of tyres thwarted his momentum.

Read Also:

Now an F1 pundit on French TV for Canal+, Montagny stresses that Jerez was a circuit he never tired of visiting. Now predominantly a bike racing venue, it last held F1 testing in 2015 and staged a high-powered single-seater race when Formula 2 and GP3 held a standalone meeting in 2017.

“It was a good place, I don’t get bored of it,” he says. “I’m sure if I go back tomorrow, I will be very pleased.”

Montagny, pictured testing for Toyota in 2006, says he never tired of visiting the Spanish track

Montagny, pictured testing for Toyota in 2006, says he never tired of visiting the Spanish track

Photo by: Edd Hartley

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Mercedes F1 car feels best it has all season in Japan practice, says Hamilton
Next article F1 Japanese GP qualifying - Start time, how to watch & more

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe