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Last Updated May 25, 2022, 08:33 AM

"Qualifying in Monaco is everything", says Juan Pablo Montoya

With the Monaco Grand Prix coming up this weekend, we talked to the winner of the 2003 edition, Juan Pablo Montoya, who gave his thoughts on the grid, how qualifying is everything at Monaco and the improvements made by the F1 teams.

Hamilton, if not for the overheating issues, could have finished fourth. Add to that Russell’s podium. Mercedes for sure have improved, but do you think they can catch up to Red Bull and Ferrari this season?

“I think this is the first step.” 

“They are behind about four races. I think this is the first race for Mercedes where they go: ‘Okay, we have a baseline. We can work from here. We have enough speed now to get the job done. We have, we got rid of the porpoising in the cars. Not bouncing anymore down the streets. We can run the car where it needs to be run. Now, what do we need to do to improve it?’”

“That's why I feel they are three of four races behind, because all the development they’ve done is to get rid of the porpoising. Now that the porpoising is gone, it’s going to be very interesting to see how quick the car becomes and how fast it can get upgrades.”

“You have to remember, they fixed this and they probably have in the pipeline two or three more upgrades coming. And they are probably waiting for this to see how it works on the track. And as soon as they see progress on this they say: ‘Okay, next upgrade’.” 

“And I think Monaco is not that crucial with upgrades and downforce. Yes, downforce is important and everything, but it could be a good track for Mercedes. But the amazing thing in qualifying was that they didn’t look that strong, but in race pace they look amazing. So, I think Mercedes is coming whether you like it or not.”

Anything in particular about Mercedes that stood out to you? Their speed coming out of the corner looked really impressive and could be a major asset in Monaco?

“Monaco is difficult. Because qualifying in Monaco is everything.” 

“If you’re sitting behind somebody, you’re just sitting behind them. Unless you do something with strategy, everything is very difficult and the way F1 is at the moment, you don’t refuel, every lap the car gets quicker. So, you get quicker, you get quicker, you get quicker and you make a stop.”

“The undercut is normally the biggest thing, unless you go a lot longer and play a different game. But track position is everything, so if you can come out of them, even if you are a second slower, you’re gonna beat them.

Any early picks for the Monaco GP?

“My money is on Max. You know, it would be nice for Charles and for the F1 championship to get closer with a Ferrari win. But you got to say that Red Bull is more complete as a team.”

“They execute better, they do a better job with everything.”   

Let’s talk about Max Verstappen. He’s the defending world champion and is now leading the drivers’ standings yet when you hear the radio, he’s complaining about the car. Do you think Max is concerned about the car’s reliability or is he venting out his frustrations due to the pressure of being defending champion, especially considering the manner in which he won it?

“I think that a lot of pressure comes from the fact that the Ferrari has a quicker car at the moment. You know, they should’ve won the race. LeClerc should have won the race by a mile. He made a mistake, he put the car on the grass. He went off into the gravel on turn four. By doing so he put himself in a bad situation and then he starts getting angry with the team.”

“Yes, they had an issue with the DRS, but after he had the issue that went on the radio, they told him: ‘Hey, you need to be careful because you are pressing the button twice or you are closing it yourself. So be careful with that’.”

“And the team did a good job changing the strategy on him and after that and he executed well. They were not racing the Ferraris anymore, so it was a different race.“

Checo Perez, while being happy about the 1-2 finish for Red Bull, was seemingly not impressed by not being allowed to go for the win. Do you think the team orders were justified? Christian Horner defended them citing Verstappen’s tire health.

“I think even without the motors they should have won the race. You know what I mean, Max was gonna beat him.” 

“If they were gonna go head to head race in the end of the race, for sure they were gonna win it because he had a lot fresher tires. I think it was 10 or 12 laps fresher tires. And that’s enough to have enough pace to basically beat him in a head to head duel.”

“I think the team was smart enough to tell Sergio (Perez) that if he gets there, you are going to have to let him by.” 

“I think what Checo should have done better, was that he should have been a lot more aggressive on his previous runs and have had more pace. Because I think he would have had enough pace if Max wouldn't have gone there. Then it is a lot of harder for them to take the win away.”

What advice would you give to the grid, looking back on your win in Monaco in 2003?

“Do the laps. Practice is everything. You gotta do the laps and you really got to put in the line in qualifying cause track position is everything.”

Do you think Charles LeClerc will cave in to the pressure of Max and Red Bull surpassing him and then driving in his hometown? And, do you think the ‘Monaco curse’ talks affect him mentally, at some level?

“It really shouldn’t be a curse. I mean, he’s pretty unlucky there.” 

“But, Ferrari has got a lot of pace and we’ll see how good it is around Monaco. Because I think in the slow speed corners you can say that the Red Bull looks a little better.”

“So, if I had to say it, I would say it’s probably more of a Red Bull track than a Ferrari track.”

“The Ferraris are normally better in the faster tracks like medium speed corners, not really slow speed corners. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how well they all work on the really soft tires. It’s gonna be really interesting.”

“If I were to say who’s going to be better there, I would guess that probably Max (Verstappen) would be better than Charles (Leclerc). Especially in the race. Maybe on a one lap Ferrari could put a lap together, but on the race, my money would be on Max to win it.” 

There’s been talks about the Monaco GP being discontinued in the future but drivers love to drive there and it, to F1 fans, is still special. Do you see Monaco being taken away from the calendar at some point?

“No. I think Monaco has got a lot of history.” 

“They’re probably putting a lot of pressure on Monaco, to put it on a level with every other race.” 

“For me, it's amazing. I live there, so for me to go there. I travel a lot, but when I’m home I go by the track every day, so it’s always really close. 

“It would be a shock to F1 if Monaco were taken out. I’m sure they’re putting pressure on them. They need to step up a bit more than anything else.”

There’s also been talks about F1 adding more street circuits as opposed to purpose made tracks. Lewis himself commented saying that street circuits are more accessible to the public and brings in a bigger diversity in the audience. What is your opinion or street circuits vs purpose made tracks?

“I think it’s the big thing, if you look at Miami. Miami is a street course, and they did an amazing job.”

“Las Vegas is coming up next year. So, the cool thing with the street course is that you can go to the right places and the right cities. But, you’re in Miami, you’re in Vegas, I mean they are talking about going through the Strip and everything. It’s so cool.” 

“Think about it, it’s just insane. And I think that’s really cool, because it’s in places where people wanna go to and are not only going for the F1 race but for the whole weekend experience. Miami is that.”

“You know, you’re going to Miami, great restaurants, the beach, the atmosphere, everything, and you got a Formula 1 race. As you saw how many celebrities were there, everybody wants to be there.”

The Circuit de Catalunya has a 73% pole to first conversion - the most of current F1 tracks and the second on the list is Singapore. Looking at the dimensions of today’s cars (the weight, the width etc.), do you think the cars are outgrowing the circuits? 

“A little bit, but it’s not. I mean, yes, they’re bigger. They used to be huge back in the day, so it’s kind of relative.” 

“Remember the cars in the late 70s were so wide and so big and the tracks were smaller. And they raced. There was no drama. Now, people wanna make drama for everything, personally speaking.”

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Photo by Jannis Lucas

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