After the seismic tremor of Juan Pablo Montoya’s decision to move to NASCAR in 2007, comes the aftershock: he will not race in Formula One with immediate effect. His F1 career is over, and his place will be taken by Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa.
In retirement he brings to mind a driver he has been compared with at many times in his career – Nigel Mansell.
Like Mansell, Montoya has won the adoration of millions with his unrivalled agression on the track and capacity for executing overtaking manouevres of breathtaking audacity.
Like Mansell, Montoya has infuriated team owners and jouranlists alike with a demeanour and attitude outside of the cockpit that many find hard to swallow.
And, like Mansell in 1990 and 1992, this retirement of Montoya smacks of something he has done in a fit of pique. With no decent offers on the table for 2007, he’s gone and thrown all his toys out of the pram and flounced off to America.
Montoya has been as inspiring to watch as he has been frustrating. He often enlivened the turgid years of Michael Schumacher domination by taking the fight to Ferrari whenever his Williams permitted it: at Brazil in 2001, at Austria that same year, and so memorably at the Nurburgring in 2003.
But for every sublime second there have been moments of madness. The unforced spins, this misjudged moves. The careless and stupid brake-testing at Monte-Carlo in 2005 which got him thrown to the back of the grid. And the needless injury that had already compromised his season.
But most F1 fans could forgive and forget that. F1 without Montoya is an much less attractive proposition.
There are plenty of Euro-snobs whingeing about his decision to go to NASCAR. And I’m one of them. It’s a tedious, contrived series on which a driver of Montoya’s calibre is wasted.
A parting thought: I hope the many Columbians and other Montoya supporters who’ve paid to see him at Interlagos later this year can get their money back.