Juan Pablo Montoya


Record updated 10-Mar-08

Juan Pablo Montoya is a succesful racing driver who drove in Formula One from 2001 to 2006. He will soon become a NASCAR driver with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya Roldán was born in Bogota, Colombia. He is a succesful racing driver who drove in Formula One from 2001 to 2006. He will soon become a NASCAR driver with Chip Ganassi Racing. He was born in Bogotá where he was taught the techniques of karting from an early age by his father Pablo, an architect and motorsport enthusiast. He has enjoyed great success, most famously in top open wheel racing series. The highlights of his career include an International F3000 title, a world title in the CART FedEx Championship Series, and race victories in the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix, the blue ribbon events of the Indy Racing League and Formula 1 respectively.

Montoya began racing karts in 1981 at the early age of six, and by age nine he won the Children's National Kart Championship. In 1986, he won the junior division of the National Championship. For the next three years, he won many local and national titles in the Kart Komet Division. Montoya capped off his karting career by winning the Kart Junior Championships in 1990 and 1991.

Montoya moved to the Copa Formula Renault Series in 1992. The same year, he also participated in a U.S. series operated by Skip Barber. 1993 saw Montoya switch to the Swift GTI Championship, a series he dominated by winning seven of eight races. The following year, 1994, was a very busy year for the 19-year-old Colombian, as it saw him race in three separate series: the Sudam 125 Karting, USA Barber Saab, and Formula N in Mexico (a series in which he won the title). As his success continued year after year, Montoya came to be known for his uncanny ability to win pole positions (as well as races), in some cases taking 80% of a season's poles. For the next three years, Montoya raced in various divisions, continually progressing upward. He raced in the 1995 British Formula Vauxhall Championship, and in the 1996 British Formula 3, as well as taking part in events in Zandvoort, Netherlands and at Silverstone.

As a youngster resident in Austria Juan Pablo Montoya struggled to save enough money for his basic needs. At this stage of his life he recalls having no money even for public transport; instead he used roller blades to go from one place to another. Retirement from motorsport seemed likely, but a call to take part in the 1997 Formula 3000 season was the blessing he was praying for. He finished second in the championship in his rookie season, The Williams Formula One team noticed his potential, and signed him to a multi-year testing contract from 1998. Alongside his Formula One testing duties for Williams he competed again in F3000 and took the title in a close contest with Nick Heidfeld.

Renault, Williams engine supplier for most of the 1990s, left Formula One at the end of the 1997 season. With no major engine suppliers available, Williams were forced to sign a contract to run customer engines for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. In 1998 the team failed to win a race for the first time in a decade. For the 1999 season, in the hope of attracting more investors to the underperforming team, Frank Williams agreed a driver swap with CART team owner Chip Ganassi, in which Ganassi’s 1997 and 1998 CART champion driver, Alessandro Zanardi, would return to Formula One and Montoya would take his place in the competitive American series.

While Zanardi had a miserable year in Formula One, Montoya, with Honda power and a great Reynard chassis at his disposal, took the American motorsport scene by storm. He took the 1999 title in his rookie year, something accomplished six years earlier by former Formula One Champion, Nigel Mansell.

The season that saw Montoya crowned as the youngest ever CART FedEx Championship Series Champion at the age of 24 was closely fought, especially with Dario Franchitti who led the championship going into the final race in California. Both drivers finished the season with equal number of points but having won seven races to the Scotsman's three decided the title in the Colombian's favor. Montoya's tally of wins, pole positions and fastest laps meant that he was considered the fastest driver in a series which lacked electronic aids such as traction control, adaptive suspension or automatic gearboxes. However, the CART rookie also attracted criticism - notably from Michael Andretti and his team - for his aggressive style of driving.

Montoya still had a contractual relationship with Williams and after his impressive rookie season the Grove-based team were keen for him to drive for them in Formula One. However, the young Colombian decided to race in the US for one more year.

In 2000 the Ganassi team switched to Toyota engines and Lola chassis. The package was strong for ovals and high speed tracks, but was less well suited to street and most road circuits. Toyota’s engines were not yet reliable and often failed the team. Despite this, Montoya led more laps than anyone else and took the maiden victory for a Toyota engine in the series. He was also the most popular driver, but in a season where he failed to finish more than 60% of races he was out of contention for the championship.

That season the Ganassi team also competed in the prestigious Indianapolis 500 race, part of the rival Indy Racing League series. Media and drivers were critical of the way Juan Pablo approached the Brickyard, many IRL drivers labelled him as reckless and predicted an early retirement from the race. The media activity around the event was intense, with Montoya and his CART teammate Jimmy Vasser being the first CART drivers to "cross-over" to drive in the Indy 500. Despite public warnings from two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser, Jr. claiming that if a driver doesn't respect the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place "will bite you - hard" Montoya shrugged off the advice claiming that all four corners were exactly the same and that the track required less attention than the road courses in the CART series and in European racing.

In the event, the Colombian star led 162 of 200 laps and claimed top honours at the end of the 500 mile race, taking an easy victory on his first attempt. He was the first to do so since Formula One World Champion Graham Hill in 1966 and was the first Colombian winner. His compatriot Roberto José Guerrero had previously finished twice as runner up.

Over the weekend of the 2000 Indianapolis 500, BMW.Williams announced a two year deal for Montoya to partner Ralf Schumacher starting in 2001. His entrance was very much anticipated by the Formula One Community due to the talent and raw speed showed in the America's based series.

Montoya showed great potential from the beginning. Critics and fans alike anticipated that he would challenge for the World Drivers Championship. During the first half of his Formula One career he consolidated his position as a fast driver and a race win challenger and also became a title contender during 2003 but the hopes of fighting for the title gradually faded as stronger and more consistent challengers arrived on the scene.

Montoya has been criticized during his Formula One career for his unreliability and tendency to make costly mistakes. His driving style is too characteristic of the 80's Formula One era. In this matter it is difficult to build a car that suits him well as engineers and aerodynamicists have adapted their work to build chassis that are more appropriate to a more fine and soft, and perhaps less live, driving style.

Entering his sixth season, in 2006, it was evident that Juan Pablo Montoya had not developed into the title contender that racing fans and the media had predicted. In particular after five full seasons the necessary consistency never materialised. However, he often challenged for race victories and was voted top Latin American driver at the Premios Fox Sports awards in 2003 and 2005

Montoya made his Formula One debut for the BMW-powered Williams team on March 4 2001, Australian Grand Prix. Less than a month later, he shocked Michael Schumacher — and the F1 world — in Brazil by overtaking the World Champion in a daring move. Montoya was on course to win the race when backmarker Jos Verstappen collided with him. Verstappen claimed he did brake earlier than normal. Two races later, the diffuser of the Williams was forbidden by the FIA as it was said to kill the downforce of cars behind. In his first season in Formula One Montoya established himself as a natural racer and a favorite with fans and commentators. Although Williams struggled with reliability that year — Montoya only finished six races — he nevertheless won three pole positions and stood on the podium four times, including his maiden Formula One victory at the 2001 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

In 2002 Montoya was the best of the rest as Ferrari's dominance left available no better place than third. Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello won 15 of 17 races. Although, unlike Coulthard and his team mate Ralf Schumacher, he did not win a race, Montoya was one of the few drivers to compete with Schumacher on the track. As in 2001, he stood out for his forceful overtaking moves on the World Champion, although several times he lost places through clashing with the German. For qualifying the BMW WilliamsF1 FW24 could be set up to use its tires more effectively than its rivals and generate more grip. With this weapon Montoya was able to win seven pole positions, usually in the very last seconds of the session. He set the fastest ever lap for a Grand Prix during the qualifying session of the 2002 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Although the 2003 chassis was built by the team specifically for Montoya's driving style, the machine needed time to be developed. Problems with oversteer were still present, often resulting in 360º spins in front of the crowd, in addition to reliability problems with the BMW engine.

From the Monaco Grand Prix the FW25 proved to be the class of the field, allowing Montoya to take victory at Circuit de Monaco from Kimi Räikkönen. Although this newly revamped design had proven successful, Williams often made mistakes, failing to find a correct setup and Montoya gained a poor reputation for setting up a Formula One car. In addition, Ralf Schumacher had a better relationship with the team, especially with the sporting director, which resulted in several in-race advantages for the German. During the 2003 French Grand Prix, after a misunderstanding with the pit crew, there was a vocal exchange of expletives between the Colombian and his team. This was followed by a formal letter of reprimand from the BMW Williams F1 team. A couple of weeks later the McLaren Mercedes team announced that they would take on his racing services from 2005.

Bad luck for rivals and excellent on-track performances from the Colombian meant he was a title contender, particularly after a key victory at the German Grand Prix. Williams, however, were unable to keep pace with the latest developments from Ferrari. Montoya failed to claim another victory that year. A drive-through penalty at the United States Grand Prix after a collision with Barrichello, ended his title chances in the last race he would finish in 2003.

2004 was a disappointing year for Montoya. His relationship with the team was strained throughout the season since both parties knew he would be leaving for the McLaren team at the end of the year.

Early season promise faded as the radical looking ‘tusked’ Williams FW26 initially lacked pace and both drivers were frequently left struggling to score points. However, the car was significantly overhauled during the season and the radical nose designed by a former Ferrari aerodynamicist was finally replaced with a more conventional one for the final stages of the season. Montoya left the team on a high note by winning his last race with them, the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, which was closely contested with future team mate Kimi Räikkönen.

After driving for Williams for four full seasons, Montoya found the McLaren Mercedes car unpredictable in 2005, often claiming it felt like the steering wheel was not "attached" to the rest of the car.

Having been criticised in previous years for his lack of fitness, Montoya began a training program under the direction of McLaren personnel but all the effort was lost when, just after the Malaysian Grand Prix, he injured his shoulder while in Spain. The official reason given to media was that he had injured himself whilst playing tennis. However rumors stated that a motorcycle accident was the real cause. After missing two Grands Prix he made an early return before he was completely healed. In fact he was often seen with his arm almost motionless for the remaining five Grands Prix even while in the paddock for the British GP.

In practice for the Monaco Grand Prix Montoya was penalized to start from the back by race stewards for brake-testing his former Williams team mate, Ralf Schumacher, causing a four car collision. At the Canadian Grand Prix Montoya was on course for a win, but he was disqualified after leaving the pitlane under a red light. As a Michelin runner, Montoya did not start the US Grand Prix (see 2005 US Grand Prix). The Colombian was on track for a possible win at Magny-Cours when his suspension failed. He retired from the lead of the Hungarian GP due to a broken driveshaft. His team mate had a similar failure 8 GP before, which shows the differences in suspension geometry between both McLaren's as the torsional forces are carried out in different manner.

During the year Montoya suffered even more from oversteer than he had at Williams. On several occasions he spun during practice. More seriously he spun in his return from injury at the Spanish Grand Prix and most notoriously at the last corner during qualifying for the German Grand Prix. On that occasion he made up for it by climbing from 20th to 8th after the first two corners eventually finishing in a respectable 2nd.

Montoya worked with the team during the year to identify suspension geometry and aerodynamic problems that were making the car unpredictable. It is said that he helped the team to improve the car a lot, benefiting both himself and his team mate.

He had to learn how to cope with a very nervous and ‘oversteery’ car, in these conditions and after bad luck for his team mate, he scored his first victory for McLaren Mercedes in the British GP and in the same conditions at Monza.

For most of the season Montoya's major concerns were the ongoing problems with backmarkers and team orders. Both Tiago Monteiro and Antônio Pizzonia collided with him, as had Jos Verstappen in 2001, and Jacques Villeneuve forced him off the track in one of the final races of the year. These incidents prevented Montoya from completing his main task for the team; stopping Fernando Alonso and Renault F1 from increasing their lead in the standings over Räikkönen and McLaren respectively.

In the final stages of the season it was clear that Montoya and his car were finally adapted to one another. The Colombian has often attributed this to the greater effort made by the McLaren Mercedes Team than by Williams to tune the car to his driving style. At the Brazilian GP, Montoya led home McLaren's first 1-2 result in years, ahead of newly crowned world champion Fernando Alonso in third. It was his last finish of the year. In Japan he made contact with Jacques Villeneuve on lap one, while in China a loose drain cover rose up and hit his car, damaging the suspension.

Throughout the 2005 season Räikkönen was clearly the team's unofficial number one. Controversial moves by Montoya which hindered Räikkönen's championship chances put him at odds with team boss Ron Dennis. On many occasions, characteristic mistakes by Montoya helped the Renault team and strengthened Alonso's chances of championship over Räikkönen.

Montoya started his 2006 Formula 1 World Championship campaign learning that the 2005 Formula 1 Champion Fernando Alonso had been contracted by McLaren-Mercedes for the 2007 season. At the same time McLaren did not take up their option on Montoya for 2007, while his teammate Kimi Räikkönen remained a free agent.

During the first three races, Montoya consistently underperformed on the track, not managing to improve his position from the start at the Bahrain and Malaysia Grands Prix. Problems with his engine mapping also contributed, resulting in poor straight line performance.

At the Australian Grand Prix, he drove an excellent race that sadly featured a few critical mistakes. His car spun near the end of the warm-up lap, caused by too much throttle whilst warming the tyres, and if Fisichella hadn't stalled his Renault before the start of the race and triggered another formation lap, Montoya would have started at the back end of the grid. He did manage to regain his grid position though, which angered other team managers. His race ended when towards the end of the race he hit a kerb on the exit of the final corner, whilst chasing Ralf Schumacher hard for third place. The impact triggered an automatic electronic device in the McLaren MP4-21, shutting down his engine as it went into safety mode.

In the San Marino Grand Prix, Montoya was forced to use the team spare car for the qualifying session when it was learnt that his car had a fuel pressure problem. McLaren fitted his engine into the team spare car, thus saving Montoya from a 10-place grid penalty. He managed to qualify in seventh place ahead of Räikkönen. The race however was very undramatic for him and a steady performance saw him finish third, earning his first podium finish of the season.

The races at the Nürburgring and the Circuit de Catalunya, however, were very disappointing for Montoya. He qualified in 9th position for the European Grand Prix but then was stuck behind traffic for almost the whole race before his engine failed a few laps from the end. Catalunya saw Montoya failing to qualify in the Top 10 for the first time in the season. He qualified 12th in an underperforming McLaren. He was heavily fuelled and was on a one-stop strategy for the race but he spun and his car got stuck on a kerb and his race was over. Juan Pablo had a solid race at Monaco, inheriting second place 14.5 seconds behind championship leader Fernando Alonso after Räikkönen and Mark Webber went out with engine problems on lap 50. Once again, though, he appeared to be somewhat off his team mate's pace.

The Canadian Grand Prix saw Montoya pull off a stunning overtaking move on Michael Schumacher on the opening lap, but contact with Nico Rosberg on the next lap and a mistake at the last corner resulted in Montoya bracing the wall and damaging the car, leading to retirement.

The US Grand Prix also brought further disappointment to Montoya's season. An 8-car crash on the first corner saw him retire from the race, yet again taking no points. This crash also involved team-mate Räikkönen, and as one of the main instigators of the crash, this cast further doubt upon Montoya's future in Formula 1.

On 11 July 2006, McLaren-Mercedes announced that Montoya would leave the team with immediate effect, by mutual consent, to enable him to prepare for his future career and take time out with his family. This ultimately confirmed Montoya's exit from F1. However, in the press conference on July 14 at the French Grand Prix, Ron Dennis stated that Montoya is still under contract with McLaren-Mercedes and he will remain in contract with the team until the expiration of the deal. Dennis also said there is a possibility that Montoya would return to the team to test and race this season.

Although he had the talent, the strict nature of the F1 world did not suit Montoya’s free-spirited persona. Several poor performances during his stint with McLaren and his continually building criticism of the team irritated team boss Ron Dennis and further reduced his already fading reputation among the paddock. He was offered a possible drive with his former team, Williams F1, but it appears Montoya was reminded of their falling out during the 2003 season and declined this offer. With no chance of a top drive for 2007, Montoya decided to end his career in Formula One and make the move to NASCAR.

On July 9, 2006, Montoya announced his plans to compete in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series beginning with the 2007 season. Montoya will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 42 Dodge. Car owner Chip Ganassi has said that Montoya will most likely be seen in a few Busch Series races towards the end of 2006 to help him make the transition to stock cars.

Montoya's contract with McLaren is still valid, preventing him from racing in NASCAR before the end of the Formula One season. Chip Ganassi is working with Dodge to work out a deal to buy out Montoya's contract, and get him in a Busch car as soon as possible, but a deal has not yet been reached. Ironically Dodge's parent company is DaimlerChrysler, who also own 40% of the McLaren F1 team.

Together with his wife, Connie Freydell (a native of Medellín, Colombia), Montoya founded the Formula Smiles Foundation as part of his duties as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. The foundation's main aim is to help children in poor neighborhoods by building or improving sports facilities and infrastructure. Montoya organizes several events for the foundation, such as Échele Cabeza al casco de Juan Pablo Montoya - a helmet painting competition in which children can design a new pattern for Montoya's racing helmet. The winning design is worn in the Brazilian Grand Prix each year. The most famous event organised by the charity is the Race of Stars, a kart race disputed by international stars of the motorsport scene. The invited drivers, mainly from Formula One and the IRL, attend in the hopes of raising money for children in poor neighbourhoods. The race is run on a street course in the historical center of the city of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, which features high levels of humidity and temperature, making it a tough driving exercise.