Juan Pablo Montoya was surely having the worst season of his Formula One career to date this year. But even so the news that he is to leave F1 and to go to NASCAR must have shocked the entire pit lane.
Why did such a popular driver with a string of wins and pole positions to his name quit after just six years in the sport?
That he is leaving McLaren is no great surprise. The partnership began poorly when Montoya was injured in a non-racing incident after three races last year. As early as the Canadian Grand Prix McLaren were happy to sacrifice Montoya’s chances to benefit Kimi Raikkonen, and Montoya clearly felt he could have won more than the three races he did without having to defer to Raikkonen.
This year’s car has lacked the pace to challenge for wins. Montoya’s failure to find solutions to its understeering tendencies have left him floundering in Raikkonen’s wake almost everywhere.
Nor did Montoya react well to the news last winter that either he or Raikkonen would be making way for Fernando Alonso in 2007.
That he has quit F1 entirely points to the likelihood that he has received no long-term offers from teams he considers worthy of his talent. So not McLaren (who many believed had offered him a one year deal), not Renault (strategy guru Pat Symonds has publicly criticised him before) and not Ferrari (Schumacher would never tolerate it).
What is surprising is that the likes of Red Bull, BMW, Toyota and Honda would not try to attract a driver who is a proven racer winner and exceptionally hard charger. Montoya is not without his faults, but nor are the likes of Jarno Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella, all contracted for this year.
What Montoya does have, that those three don’t, is a defiant streak and a tendency to speak his mind. Formula One is much the poorer for losing that.