There are hugely successful drivers in Formula 1 who are household names in Europe, but who could still walk the streets of New York completely unrecognised. Juan Pablo Montoya is not one of those drivers.
In Formula 1, the 46-year-old Colombian has taken pole at Monaco, Monza and Silverstone. As an Indy Car driver, he has won the Indy 500, twice. As a NASCAR driver he has completed nine seasons and was named Rookie of The Year in 2007. He is one of the most recognised drivers on the face of the earth.
Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel of the F2008 that won Ferrari the Constructors Title in 2008
Montoya never raced for Ferrari, his experience with the Scuderia was out on the track as a competitor driving for Williams and McLaren. However, that didn’t stop him climbing into the F2008 once piloted by Felipe Massa, as part of the recent Formula 1 Clienti shows in the Finali Mondiali at Mugello.
Driving a Ferrari after so many years of F1 rivalry must have been an interesting experience.
"Seeing the circuit decked out in red and packed with Ferrari fans for this event was incredible. That’s also because I’ve always seen Ferrari as the rival to defeat on the track, and when you’re competing you end up taking it almost personally. But this was just all-out fun, and besides that, driving it, in this context, surrounded by this passion, was magical."
Montoya was a welcome guest at the recent Formula 1 Clienti show at the Finali Mondiali at Mugello
Ferrari won the Constructors’ Championship with the F2008, which means you were also at the wheel of a special single-seater in the history of the Scuderia…
"That’s right. I was torn as I drove it: on one hand I wanted to put my foot down and push it to the limit, but on the other I didn’t want to risk getting so much as a scratch on a car that didn’t belong to me. I think I managed to strike the right balance."
Your 16-year-old son, Sebastian, is no stranger to Mugello as he races in the Italian F4. How does he compare to his father?
"He’s better than me. He’s very competitive about everything. He even wants to be first to remember the name of a song on the radio, let alone behind the wheel! His goal is to make it to Formula 1, but he’s also a very serious young man when it comes to studying, training. So, as a father, I can’t complain."
"I wanted to put my foot down and push it to the limit" - Montoya pilots the F2008 around the Mugello circuit
You also have two daughters, Paulina, aged 15, and Manuela, aged 11. Do they share your passion for motorsport?
"Paulina is crazy about Formula 1. She knows more about today’s races and drivers than I do. She’s also a big fan of Lando Norris, even if she has a photo of Charles Leclerc as the screensaver on her phone."
Finally, Ferrari won two category titles in the WEC this year and will be back among the prototypes in 2023. As someone who has competed in three 24 Hours of Le Mans, can you explain what makes endurance racing so special?
"When I was racing in Formula 1, I really didn't understand what was so great about endurance racing. Competing for 24 hours and sharing the car with other drivers seemed ridiculous. Then I tried it and I understood. The allure of Le Mans, for example, is indescribable. It’s an experience you need to have as a driver.
And what’s even more exciting is driving Le Mans at night. Then when dawn begins to break and light slowly enters and illuminates the track: amazing! Also, since the track is almost 14 km long, there may be no traffic for long stretches, and because there’s no lighting you can’t even see the guard-rail without turning the lights on against the pitch black. You look in the mirror: no one. You look ahead: no one – not a soul. I did two laps in those conditions once, and at a certain point I asked, over the radio: ‘Where’s everyone gone? Has something happened? I’m not dead, am I, doomed to a personal eternity of racing round an empty circuit?’ And I only calmed down when I had a reply on the radio."