Montoya on McLaren, Williams and Haas

F1 icon Juan Pablo Montoya sat down with us and discussed his former teams, McLaren and Williams, as well as Porsche and Audi’s decision to enter Formula 1.

The McLarens have improved significantly over the last few races. Do you think they’re starting to figure out their car?

"McLaren is one of those teams, when you look at it, that are just in the gap that if they do a big enough step with the car, they could be right there winning."

"It looks more likely that a McLaren runs with Ferrari and Red Bull, than Mercedes, right now."

"If Mercedes did a step, then Mercedes will run closer to the McLaren and if McLaren makes a step, then it will run closer to a Red Bull and Ferrari."

"Personally speaking, I think Mercedes is two steps away from them."

"They have the people, the resources, everything."

"The problem of figuring it out is that they thought they figured it out in the wind tunnel and put it on the track. The wind tunnel runs till 250 km/hr, or a scale of 250, and the problem starts close to 300. And they cannot simulate that."

"So, they think they fixed it and they think they never had an issue. It's difficult."

"Probably a lot of analysts, a lot of engineers back in the shed, they're pulling their hair out and trying to figure it out." 

"That's where I think Toto (Wolff) is very strong. They have a really good group of people together and it's a big group of people and Toto has managed them."

"Adrian goes 'this is the direction of the car' and everyone works on that area. When you have four people (like Mercedes do) and you can actually make them work together, I think that's unbelievable and that's why Mercedes has been so good. And that's Toto behind the wall doing that."

Is it Lando Norris who just gets the most out of the car or is Ricciardo just really not on his game?

"I think Daniel was pretty good. Daniel struggled with the car last year. I think the car had a very small window where it worked and Lando was really comfortable, his driving style really matched that window." 

"Daniel, the way he wanted that car to do things, it was different and he just couldn't make it work."

"I think this year's car is a little better and he's doing a better job."

"Daniel wants the car to do what he wants and Lando, he's younger, and he goes - 'let's see what happens'. He's more like, let's flip a coin and figure it out."

"Same for George and Lewis. It doesn't mean George is a lot quicker than Lewis. It's just that they're more comfortable in taking risks and more comfortable with how the car moves."

"For me, personally, it's the same thing. I'm with McLaren in the Indy500, for example, and we did a debrief where they said - 'oh yeah, the car is moving and doing things.' And I was like 'not me, if my car is doing that, I ain't driving it.'"

"That's where Lewis and Daniel are. They're more focused on making the car more comfortable."

"A lot of the media is putting a lot of pressure on Daniel to perform and I think he's doing a good job."

"When you're under pressure, you make mistakes. Look at it with Sainz. He just touched the line and ran a little wide."

"When the pressure's building, nothing goes freaking right."

Kevin Magnussen has scored every single of Haas’ 15 points - what have you made of Haas and Kevin so far?

"I think Haas, it's interesting because they've been really strong. I think (Kevin) Magnussen has been unbelievable. I've always been a big fan of him and he's doing an amazing job."

"I think Mick (Schumacher) really needs to step it up because, you know, this the first time he's got a really strong teammate and he really needs to figure it out."

"Magnussen is a nice guy, he is not a guy who wants to screw you around and anything. He can learn a lot from Magnussen himself."

Why is he doing so much better than Mick?

"Cause Mick has spent a year in F1 with (Nikita) Mazepin who was new as well."

"They were driving to what they thought was okay and he thought that was the limit of the car. He thought that what he was doing was enough and 'you know, I'm better than my teammate and the car is slow.'"

"What he didn't realise is that someone who's been doing it for a few years and actually has been away for a while got in the car and started pushing it, he's like - 'oh, oh my God'. It's a big wake-up call."

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Do you think Williams can get back to where they were when Frank Williams had his great era?

“They have the potential. Especially with the money cap and their investment group.” 

“But I think they fell so far back, that it's a four or five-year process.”

“It's crazy, even with the new rules, it's not like 'we have a new car, we are going to do like this’. What I think Haas did was better. They were bailing on everything for a year and a half. Just to build this car. That paid off. You look at Haas again and you go 'oh my god, they are pretty good'“.

“You gotta say, you have the Redbull and Ferrari ahead. And then you have the McLaren and the Haas. Then the Alfa.”

Nicholas Latifi has been struggling. Crashed a few times. Should they start to look elsewhere? Also, consider the cost of rebuilding. 

“Does it really cost that much? I mean, the expensive thing is the man-hours. They don't have to make new moulds. They are already made. The amount of hours is where the value goes up. The amount of time it takes to build a piece. From a materials point of view, I don't think it's that expensive.” 

Is Latifi good enough to be driving for Williams?

“I think he is. He has made mistakes. A lot of silly mistakes.”

“If you look at what he was doing at the end of last year, he could outqualify George (Russell) a couple of times. He was right there. So is he better than Lewis (Hamilton)?“

“He's not comfortable. Something with the Mercedes engine and how the power is coming in. It's probably really hard to put the power down. If you look at the crashes, it's always when putting the power down. He crashed like that last year in Abu Dhabi and he's done it again. Looking at the incident with Lance (Stroll), I don't think it was his fault. I think Lance didn't expect him to pass, and he was committed. And when you are committed; that's it. He has cost the team.“

“The problem when you crash is, if you have ten people building carbon pieces, instead of them focusing on building new pieces, they need to build pieces to be able to race today. Not two months from now. So the pieces that will be coming two months from now, if you spent three weeks working on the old pieces and spare parts to rebuild a car, it means that the new parts are going to be coming three weeks later.”

“Because you have a budget and a cap. It's not like before when you could go out and hire thirty more people if you were a big team.” 

“It's a bad vicious circle when you crash, but the teams are preparing normally. They'll have two or three parts of most of them, just in case. But they get to a point where they don't have enough parts if it happens again. Look at what happened with Mick (Schumacher) in Saudi. They said 'that's a big crash, if we race tomorrow and he crashes, we don't have parts for Australia'. So they decided to make a smart decision.”

“Williams is comfortable just building the car again.” 

“The crashes have so many small pieces. The floors and everything. It's not like you can put a patch on it.”

“If you look at the Renault thing, with the side-pods and everything blowing off. As soon as something like that happens, they got to freeze everything they are doing and figure out how they need to reinforce it and stop production of everything so they can fix it.” 

“Every time you have a problem like that, it just backs up production. “

“When you are a race car diver, you don't care. It's their problem, not yours. You just want to go fast and the team will figure it out. With the years you start to understand how much pain you can cause a team when you crash. It's not like you crash on purpose. You are just trying.“

“Latifi is doing a really good job and I think, he thought, that the way he was running last year against George, and when (Alex) Albon came with the experience he had from Red Bull, he could come and beat him. When that didn’t happen you need to try and go quicker. The only way to go quicker is to push the envelope further. When you do that, you end up bouncing off the walls. That's just the reality of it.”

Red Bull seems to have figured out their car issues in terms of reliability. Does that mean that they are the better team, more like to win the championship? 

“Ferrari doesn't have any issues either.” 

“I think as we go through the tracks and the year, we are going to start seeing who's got the better car on average. It's interesting to see how good the Red Bull was in Imola and it was crazy to see how fast the Ferrari was in Australia. It was like Red Bull had nothing for them. When you have that much of a difference, it's like every week is an unknown.” 

“I remember when I was in F1, there were races you showed up knowing where you were going to be good and bad, and sometimes you surprised yourself with your performance.” 

“It's quite cool. Quite hard to know what's going on and how everything works and goes. But I really enjoy it. I think it's really cool to watch because you have no idea what's going to happen.” 

“I think the sprint race was a success again. It's much better, as a fan, on Saturdays, to watch them race than to watch them qualify. Personally.“

Would you like more sprint races on the calendar? 

“I think it would be better.” 

“The distance seems to be right, but it could be slightly longer. Add four-five more laps. It would be even better because they were getting to the point where people are going with the soft tires. And the soft will survive and do everything. If you just make it a bit longer, then the soft might really take a drop and you might start seeing a mixed grid of soft and mediums. And that would make the race quite interesting.”

Volkswagen confirmed Audi and Porsche’s entry into F1. Do you think that is great for the sport?

"I think it'll be great for the sport to have another manufacturer."

"I think the manufacturers now, when they enter, it is really important that they enter for a long term."

"Before, when there were teams like McLaren would run, Williams would switch brands, the engine manufacturer was a supplier, or partner."

"And now when the manufacturers are becoming teams, it's good that they really commit to the sport and I think that's part of the deal, if you're coming in, you need to be there for at least 10 years, or whatever time there is."

"They've been talking about it for a long time. They see a good opportunity with the new engine rules and I think there were a lot of things conceded to make sure they were happy with the rules for them to enter."

"They're talking about Porsche and Audi, so it means they're looking at two teams."

"Do they want to be a supplier, or do they want to be a team?"

"There are not a lot of teams to buy. The only team you can think to buy today, is probably Williams. Cause the people who bought it, bought it as an investment. If they can get some of their money back and make some money, they'd be happy."

"Or do they want to start as a supplier and then start a team like BMW did before. But, BMW surprised themselves, when they did the team, by how much more work it was, compared to just being an engine supplier."

Porsche is reportedly in contact with Red Bull and Audi, as per reports, will be looking to buy the McLaren team..

"I would think it would be more likely to buy a Williams than a McLaren. Because I don't think McLaren would be for sale."

"A lot of the team is owned by Bahrain and I'd be surprised if they're interested in selling."

"But, you never know. When the number's big enough and nice enough, anything goes."

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Photo by Tim Carey