At number 5, I’ve chosen a charismatic Colombian. One of the very few to beat Michael Schumacher in the race track. Montoya came to Formula One off the back of an already illustrious career in the United States. He brought with him an exuberant driving style that as quick and exciting. As well as a hugely entertaining character and personality, Montoya’s ability on the race track was exactly what Formula One needed.
Driving for a resurgent Williams team, the Colombian formed a solid driver pairing with Ralf Schumacher. After a dreadful debut season, Juan Pablo retired from eleven of the seventeen races, but still managed a win and three second places, the two drivers began to achieve results with the help of the strong BMW engine. But it was Montoya who stood out to me as a seriously impressive driver. He made things happen.
It was his overtaking that I really enjoyed. Where others would wait for gaps to appear, Montoya would make a gap himself. It was right on the edge of aggression, and I find similarities with a certain Max Verstappen. The forceful nature of Juan Pablo’s driving resonated with his natural instinct to compete. A particular pass on Michael Schumacher, who had at this stage made himself the undisputed top driver in Formula One, whereby Montoya virtually pushed the German’s Ferrari out of his way as he sliced his way past on the inside of turn one at Interlagos. Things like that just didn’t happen, you weren’t supposed to overtake Michael Schumacher, especially not with the kind of attitude that Montoya displayed. I think he had a problem with authority.
His outright speed was never in doubt, in ’02 he set seven pole positions in a car clearly inferior to the likes of Ferrari. Consistently finished on the podium and comfortably outscored his teammate over the next three seasons at Williams. In his final race for the team in Brazil 2004, he scored the team’s last win until the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012. He was one of the few drivers who could outperform their car.
His motivation was severely knocked by the professional restrictions and responsibilities placed on him by McLaren management when he joined them for 2005, and it was clear that his performance was dropping. He scored two victories that year, but they would prove to be his last as he was heavily beaten by Raikkonen in the championship. He walked away from the sport midway through the 2006 season after a difficult start to the year.
It was a disappointing end to what had been an extremely positive F1 career for Montoya. He epitomised the aggressive racer, and did so with such immense skill that it was sometimes difficult to understand exactly how.
So what do you think? Is Montoya deserving of a place on this list? Let me know in the comments.