Juan Pablo Montoya gives his F1 mid-season thoughts

With F1 in a mid-season break, we caught up with legendary driver Juan Pablo Montoya who gave his thoughts on the season so far.

Can you talk about Max’s first half of the season, and what we should expect from him in the coming months with nine races left.

“I think it’s very interesting with F1 and the way it is going at the moment. Ferrari came up with the fastest car, and they haven’t really used it that well. They made a lot of mistakes, and everybody is wondering, are they going to put it all together, and when they do, is the car still going to be fast enough?”

“The other big question mark is coming out of the break, the rumour is that Mercedes has a big, big upgrade coming for their cars. And, if that is the case, Mercedes really comes up with a car, which is really cool to see from Mercedes. They stay with their car. Everybody looked at what Red Bull did, and what Carlos Sainz did. Mercedes stayed with their way of doing their car.”

“It was very interesting. It is very exciting. I think one of the big question marks when Mercedes comes in, is if Ferrari steps up, and Mercedes start fighting Red Bull, it can be really bad. But if Mercedes start getting in between Ferrari and Red Bull, and Red Bull starts scoring even more points, then it is a cruise for Max.”

“You still gotta remember, there is still half of a Championship to go. So, you can’t count your eggs yet, cause you have seen drivers make mistakes. They all do, we all do. But, I think that is an important thing.”

“If Red Bull doesn't get complacent at how good they are running at the moment. And how things keep turning up their way. As with everything, you look at the last race in Budapest, they were starting tenth. Nobody thought they were going to win the race. Nobody was even thinking about it. Ferrari was racing to defend Mercedes, and when they realised what happened, they were like, ‘oh my god, we got beat, again, by Red Bull, how can that happen?’ And they are just putting themselves in bad situations over and over again.

So what do you think of Mercedes as a dark horse play for the Constructor’s Championship, or is it just all Red Bull?

“Well, I think the big question mark that everybody needs to pay attention to, is the next race, or the next couple of races.” 

“My personal thing, I think everybody is going to come up with big upgrades. Mercedes is still gonna get better, against everybody else, but everybody else in the field is gonna stay very constant. Beause they all keep developing and making the cars better to drive, easier to drive. Everybody is getting a little more comfortable with the new package, and understanding the new package.”

“So I think the way everybody is developing the cars is going to be very similar, but I still think that Mercedes out-develops everybody else. That is my two cents.” 

“The question is, is Mercedes’ step so big that they start winning every race, and they are going to win the last nine races, and they are going to do one, two, seven or eight times, and you know, they have a shot at the Constructor Championship, while everybody else fumbles?”

“Or their step is, ok, we are starting to fight against Red Bull and Mercedes, and we are just there? That is the more realistic version of what I see coming. I see Mercedes might have a shot at winning a couple of races this year if their developing goes well. You gotta remember that it is not Mercedes developing and everybody else staying still. Everybody is working, everybody thinks their development and their ideas are the best.”

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“When everybody thinks their idea is the best, what do we have? A hundred great ideas that everybody is the best? Everybody is coming up with new things, everybody thinks their packages are better, I think Mercedes has the tendency always to have better development than everybody else. Red Bull is very good at it.“

“I think Ferrari started with their own racing package, and Ferrari should be leading the points by now by a mile. And I think, today, they still have the pace to win the races, but you know, they just keep beating themselves.” 

“That is the hard thing, and if they understand and figure out what they need to do, and how to look at it, and strategise a little better, then, they can win a lot of races.”

“You looked it over and over again, you look at Monaco, you look the last in Hungary, and there are so many more races that you go, ‘oh my god, they throw this one away, oh, they threw the next one away, oh god they threw the next one away…’

“It is like they are so afraid of making decisions, in my opinion, that is what is really hurting them. It is not that they are not doing an amazing job, because they’ve built the best car this year. But they are in that position you know when you are so good that you are like, ‘let’s not screw it up.’ When you are thinking, let’s not screw it up, somebody else is thinking, we got you. You are completely screwed.“

“Red Bull is pretty amazing. I think what Red Bull has, is that they are not afraid of losing. They have this attitude, doesn't matter if we get it wrong, we tried. Where, Ferrari’s mentality is, let’s not screw it up, cause we can win.”

With everything you’ve said about Ferrari, does that make the maybe the most disappointing team of 2022, so far, for you? They’ve had success, but it seems like you think they could have had even more.

“They should have had a lot more success. But, how can you say it has been disappointing when they’ve built the fastest racer, and they came from running mid-pack to be winning races? You know, they did a massive step with their car.” 

“I was expecting, for example, Aston to be really strong this year. But they are not. They started the season half good, and as the season got on, they kept getting worse. So that is very difficult. Because when you start doing development to the car and bringing new things, and it doesn’t relate in lap time, then you have a problem.”

“Because it means, that what you are deciding on what you are putting on the track, it doesn't match. And that is a big problem. Because now, when you start wondering, where are we missing on the process? And that is a difficult one.”

“I think a lot of teams have gone through that. And if the things don’t lineup well, then it is very hard to move forward. Because you take the car into one tunnel, and all the CFD work you do, all the, basically, the CFD is basically a model on a computer that simulates the air, and what a car is supposed to do with all the wind, and everything. And they do a lot of the development of the car there.”

“And, you put all these pieces together. And you put it on the track. The simulation says it is four tens quicker, and you put it on the track, and you have the same speed, you start wondering, where is the problem? And you don’t understand where the leak is, or where we are losing all the downforce. Then it doesn't matter how much more new stuff you bring, because none of them will work, because it doesn’t relate to the real car.”

What has been going wrong with Daniel Ricciardo, and can you see him turning it around in the second half?

“Well, it is going to be really interesting. There are a lot of rumours going around that he is going to get replaced next year.” I don’t know exactly what is going on. I know what everybody knows, what you hear, you know, that they are going to buy him out, that he is not going to be with McLaren next year.”

“I don’t know, will this maybe change his mentality, and this situation might put him in a better place? Or might make it actually worse. You don’t know. They might say, you are out, and he takes all the pressure off, and he starts performing. He doesn't have anything to lose, and the performance comes. Or he doesn’t care, and it goes a lot worse.”

That’s the hard part right there. Because I am sure he wants to stay in F1, and at the moment, there is a couple of good seats out there. With Fernando moving to Aston, that seat is, that is a premium seat at the moment, you know what I mean?

If you look at it, I understand, I think Piastri today, must be the one that did the right decision, you know, with all these rumours, am I the right decision going to McLaren, or should I have stayed in Alpine, do they have a quicker car than McLaren at the moment? I mean, which one do you go for? That is what makes it very tough.

So, we are looking at Lewis Hamilton's season here, he has had five straight podium results. What do you think of Lewis Hamilton’s season so far? And what do you think of his racing moving forward?

“I think, my two cents, Lewis is enjoying racing at the moment. He really enjoys going to the track, and driving the car, and he has no pressure. To the point that he has no pressure, he just loves driving the car.” 

“And I think as long as he feels that he is competitive, then he will race.”

“I think the point he starts feeling, starting to be on pace, then he might stop. I think everybody, I would say I was a little surprised to see how strong he is running against George. Especially how strong George ran, when he ran that Mercedes before.”

“George has done a really good job in qualifying, but I think Lewis is starting to get the better of him. And that is a reality.”

Early look ahead at Belgium Grand Prix, who do you like to win that race, whose car works best on that track?

“My money would be on Charles. I am normally a big Max guy to win all these races, but I think that track might be a Ferrari track.” 

“It is a strong track, it is a fast track, you know, they have a lot of pace. I think Red Bull has a lot of pace too. It is a good track for a guy like Checo, I think he performed really, really well.”

“There are tracks like, I think, Budapest. Budapest is very difficult, very technical, and is very hard to get a lap time out of you.” 

“Whereas with Spa, it just flows a lot easier, the lap time comes a lot easier. So I think Checo is going to be right there, I think Max is going to be right there, but if I would put a bet today, my bet today would probably be on Charles with the Ferrari.”

So, silly season so far, how are you finding, is it, like, how is it compared to the previous ones?

“I think it is crazy because, I think two weeks ago, like two-three weeks ago, it was the quietest one ever.”

“I think if you look at it from the outside, you would say Piastri is going to Williams, they are going to get a Renault engine, everybody is saying the same.”

“And then, you have Vettel saying he is stopping, then you have Fernando saying he is leaving, then you have Alpine announcing Piastri, and Piastri saying NOO, I am not driving for them. So it means he signed with somebody else.”

“It is crazy because I think there are a lot of political things going on behind closed doors that nobody knows about. I am sure there are a lot of deals being done and decisions being made, that nobody really knows.”  

Speaking of Fernando leaving, he says he is still in the running to pursue another world title. Do you see it as a good idea going to Aston Martin at the current moment?

“It is hard, but remember, with F1, if they run bad this year, it doesn’t mean they are going to run bad the next two years.” 

“I think he’s got more than a one-year contract. That was a key thing for him to leave Alpine, because Alpine were so keen on Piastri, that they were only offering Fernando a year extension.”

“So if Fernando was like - ‘ok, I have one more year left here, and I don’t see it happening. And then somebody else comes and offers him, I don’t know, two years or plus, to go somewhere else, he goes, it is a good gamble, it is a good bet.”

“You know, Mercedes always had good engines, and Aston has had decent cars. If they can put it all together, you know, they have the means and the budget, and everything to get it done.” 

“So you would assume they have a shot at winning long-term. And I think Fernando thinks he can bring it around. And I think it is a great opportunity.”

Do you think in terms of Piastri, do you think that bridge is burned? Are they going to force him back by a lawsuit, and, if so, what is going to happen, is he going to stay more than a season or two?

“My two cents is, if McLaren wants him, they are going to have to spend a lot of money. Because they need to probably end up selling somehow with Alpine. So, they are going to have to pay Danny a big sum of money for him to leave.”

“So, do they have the cash, and do they think it is worth doing it, then go for it.” 

“If they don’t, then it is a whole different story. So I think that saga is not over yet.”

“But it is a tough situation because if you tell Danny, ok, we are going to buy you out, are you going to come back three months later saying you are racing for us? So, are you telling Danny, ok, we are buying you out, go sign somewhere else, and he does, then, what happens?”

What about IndyCar, do you think he should go to IndyCar? Will has been out saying he would prefer it over at IndyCar, and Ralf Schumacher says he hasn’t got a chance at F1 if he blows it with McLaren.

“I think he is probably the favourite for the Alpine seat in my opinion. And I think it would be a good thing for Alpine to have somebody experienced in the team.” 

“I think Ocon is pretty fast. But, Ocon, I think, I don’t know if he is still young or whatever, but I think they need a leader. To guide that team in the direction of development and everything.”

“And I think Danny is the best bet at the moment from the free agents and what is out there. Daniel is still the best choice.”

“I don’t think Daniel wants to finish his career with this. I got kicked out of Formula 1. He has had a pretty good career, and going from having a pretty good career to getting kicked out would be devastating for him.”

Sergio Perez has faltered in the past few races but had a promising start. What is your opinion on this?

“I think Spa should be very good for him. I think Max wasn’t that comfortable with the car at the start of the season, and I think Checo was a little bit more comfortable. And I think that goes a long way.” 

“I think Spa should be a good race to see where Checo is at. I really think Checo can run well there. It has always been a decent track for him. So, he should be pretty competitive there.”

“I think that is a good race because, supposedly, Mercedes has a big development coming up. I think Ferrari wants to come up and prove everybody wrong that they don’t know what they are doing, and they will want to win that race.” 

“I think Max needs to be careful not to get into the comfortable zone of just scoring points.”

Do you think Ferrari seriously have a chance?

“I think Ferrari has the fastest car, still. They are just not using it.”

Is that down to Mattia Binotto's guidance or?

“No, Mattia is not the guy with the strategy. Everybody blames him, but he is not the one.” 

“I don’t think he would be the one saying, oh let’s put the hard tyre on. That is why you have strategists, and that is why you pay top people to make those decisions.”

“In Red Bull, it is not Adrian Newey, or Christian Horner making the decisions. It is the strategists that are making the decisions.” 

But, as it looks like right now, do you think Ferrari drivers should take more responsibility for their own race?

“You can’t. In a way, you are kinda told what you are doing, are we going to plan b, are we going to plan c, you know how they are. And they get in the car, they drive the car as hard as they can. A lot of times, they don’t even know what tyres they are going to put on the car.”

“So what are they going to do? You see them when they leave the pitch, and they go, why you gave me the hard tyre? It is not, you never asked me if I wanted that tyre.”

But on the other hand, we saw Carlos Sainz refuse to print for inters, not too long ago.

“Yeah, yeah, I think the inters to drive is the driver’s choice. If you don’t believe, either the condition is still too wet, or something like this, then you don’t risk it.” 

“Or, if you are like Red Bull, they can do what Checo says, this is what we are doing, deal with it. Like they did in Monaco, we are taking a gamble when you come in, and he comes in. He might say it is still too wet, they say you’ll be ok. Drive it.”

“But I think in Ferrari, it is a more structured thing, that you drive your car as hard as you can, with whatever we give you. And that’s it.” 

“You don’t, you know, you might question it, but that is the decision. And I think that’s what’s happening. You know, whoever is making the decisions, it’s either they are not getting a good read from practice, cause remember, most of the times those tyres are run in practice. So they can see the performance of the tyres.”

“So they kind of know what they are going to get. And, if they didn’t, and they gambled it on the race, and somebody else did a long run, and the results, in the long run, were terrible, and they didn’t look at that, it is their own fault.”

“But, it is not Mattia’s fault. It is whoever is in charge of strategy. You know, that is the problem, in all these sports, you know, they look at Toto on the TV, they look at Christian Horner on the TV, and so on. They look at Mattia, but they are not the guys making the final decision of what tyre goes on the car. You know, they run the team as a whole.”

“It is like when you own, I don’t know, let’s call it a soda company, and you are not in charge of putting the cap on every bottle. And if a couple of caps come out wrong, you are going to get blamed for it, but it doesn’t mean you did it.”

It just seems that strategy has been a pretty consistent problem with Ferrari, and if Mattia is running the team, I guess he is also responsible for the strategy. Do you see him rejigging the strategy team in the middle of the summer break?

“Yeah, long-term I agree with you, it is his responsibility. During the weekend it is not.” 

“But, the people that are there are his responsibility 100%, or whoever he assigned to be responsible for.”

“No, I think they will have a good talk about it, I don’t think he is going to change the personnel mid-season.” 

“I think the big thing there for me, is how they are going to address it, and how it is going to change.”

“I think they need to stop being so timid with their decisions and be a little more aggressive.”

George Russell, Mr Consistency, is he making himself more and more viable as a title contender for 2023?

“I think the way it is going at the moment, I think Lewis is starting to get to his head a little bit. And Lewis is running a little bit stronger than anybody expected. And I think that makes it tough.”

“If you look at it, yes, it is Mr Consistency, but the guy getting the podium is Lewis. If they had the fastest two cars at the moment, Lewis would be winning.” 

“And so, do you want to be Mr Consistency, or do you want to be the winner?”

I guess, for a long time, one of the most winning aspects of Hamilton’s career has been that he has been consistent every race.

“Well, he has been consistently winning with the best car, and consistently beating his teammate. And that hasn’t changed.” 

“So you want to be consistent, but you still need to be faster than your teammate if you want to win.”

What are your expectations from Kevin Magnussen for the remainder of the season? He seems to be having a lot of trouble getting off the line. 

“Yeah, I mean, all these things, like getting off the line, a lot of it is, ok, this is how we start the car, this is the best way we think, the best launch is this, we are gonna do this. And they go out there and do it.” 

“Whether he is doing something wrong on the pressure, or is it just that it isn’t working properly?”

“Cause, if you look at it at the moment, they are starting with such low revs. They wanna get no wheel spin whatsoever. That is very different from back in the day. So it is pretty amazing how that has changed.”

Photo by Kévin et Laurianne Langlais

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