Wednesday June 27th, 2001
By Timothy Collings
After failing to finish seven races in the first half of the season, Juan Pablo Montoya knew things had to change.
The Colombian driver, hailed after three Grands Prix as a future Formula One World Champion, had fallen into a rut of accidents, mechanical failures and controversy. Last Sunday, though, he opted for a more cautious approach - and finished second in the European Grand Prix.
It was the second time this season he had occupied the runners-up spot on the podium and was a reward for his efforts in overcoming the fallout from his unsavoury scrap with Jacques Villeneuve in Canada earlier this month.
Montoya's speed and daring have never been in doubt. But the inconsistency which brought the Williams-BMW driver seven DNF's and two second places in nine races, was becoming a problem. Since the season-opening Grands Prix in Australia and Malaysia, however, Montoya has altered his approach.
The happy-go-lucky 25-year-old began the year saying what he felt in colourful language to whoever was standing around at the time. His comments were littered with profanities and much of what he said was not calculated to be politically correct. For this, he was praised as a breath of fresh air until the spectacular driving style and outspoken comments began to overshadow his achievements on the track alongside the consistency of his teammate Ralf Schumacher.
Sensing things were not going well and heeding a few carefully-timed warnings from his team, Montoya has spent the last few weeks concentrating more on driving and less on talking.
"The last two races, I made pretty silly mistakes and gave away quite a lot of points," he admitted after Sunday's race at the Nuerburgring in Germany. "We had quite a few reliability problems at the beginning of the year, but things are getting much better now."
The Colombian also confirmed that he had decided during the European Grand Prix not to pursue a high-risk strategy of fighting for the leading positions during the early laps, but rather to be patient. "I lost quite a bit at the beginning of the race," he said. "I was getting a lot of hassle with the car so I thought just take it easy and get to the end." And the caution paid off.
"I knew Ralf and Michael (Schumacher) were going to go and I decided just to build up the pace slowly," he added. "The car was very positive and I got it to handle so that I could drive it really smoothly and started to make up time. It was amazing."
By his recent standards, Montoya had a relatively straightforward race, with only one off-circuit excursion. "I was trying to pass David (Coulthard)," he admitted, "And I got really close behind. But when I hit the brake, I just locked the front tyres and didn't even try to turn."
Buoyed by his performance in Germany, Montoya can now head for this weekend's French Grand Prix knowing his calmer attitude can reap dividends in an increasingly reliable and competitive car.
The Williams team enter the second half of the season on course to produce the consistency needed to make them regular contenders to win races. They have amassed more points - 37 - at the half-way stage than they scored in the whole of 2000, and with Montoya now learning his lessons the team can expect to fulfil their ambition of challenging for next year's world title.
Published at 05:23:42 GMT