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Montoya needs to improve his luck
Alan Baldwin | May 26, 2005 15:19 IST
McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya knows only too well that drivers can make their own luck in Formula One.
The Colombian arrives at the Nuerburgring for Sunday's European Grand Prix with the nagging suspicion that he has twice shot himself in the foot, figuratively speaking, in the space of six races.
He should go well and needs to, in a home race for engine partners Mercedes, if team mate Kimi Raikkonen is not to disappear into the distance and leave him with a purely supporting role in the title battle.
While the Finn is chasing his third win and fourth pole position in a row, Montoya has yet to get on the podium. Raikkonen is second overall with 27 points, the Colombian in eighth place with 14.
The 29-year-old Montoya has won races in the past, his last being with Williams in Brazil in October, but he has made life difficult for himself.
First he missed two Grands Prix, Bahrain and San Marino, with a shoulder injury sustained in less than transparent circumstances.
Although he insisted that he had been playing tennis with his trainer in Madrid, others suggested the Colombian was more likely to have been riding a motorcycle than returning a serve.
His comeback in Spain on May 8 was compromised by the lingering discomfort in his shoulder, a spin during the race and a pit stop delay due to a faulty refuelling rig.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis said afterwards that his seventh place, translating into a good qualifying slot for Monaco, left the team feeling "fully justified in him coming back a little bit early".
Scroll forward to last weekend in Monaco, the glamour race that Montoya won for Williams in 2003, and the good work was thrown away.
One moment of red mist, in the eyes of the race stewards and rivals, cost him another podium finish after he was sent to the back of the starting grid for causing an avoidable accident in Saturday morning practice.
The stewards said Montoya, impeded by Toyota's Ralf Schumacher on a fast stretch of track, "braked and took exception to his lap being disturbed and subsequently drove unnecessarily slowly".
The result was a multiple car collision that Canadian Jacques Villeneuve said could have killed him and others.
Montoya still managed to go from 16th to fifth but could easily have finished second had he been in a position to qualify normally.
He had beaten Raikkonen in Australia and Malaysia and without the bizarre training accident, and the Monaco incident, might by now have had four podiums from six races rather than none from four.
It is all a far cry from the pre-season period, when Montoya seemed to be doing everything right just as Raikkonen appeared to be going off the rails with reports of night-clubbing excesses.
The Colombian had lost weight and looked sharper than ever while McLaren faced embarrassing questions about their young Finn's drinking habits.
Yet it is Raikkonen, happily pouring champagne down his throat on the victory podium, who has turned everything to his advantage.
"There was a lot of speculation about Kimi at the beginning of the year but those of us that work with him know he's a pretty dedicated and determined individual," said managing director Martin Whitmarsh.
"We as a team underperformed in the first three races and it was deeply frustrating as we knew we had a quick car.
"Kimi has really powered through that, Juan has been unlucky.
"I know people like to speculate about whether it was a tennis ball or a motorbike but the reality is he had an accident and that took a large part of the momentum out of the sails.
"Of course you have to make your own luck but with a bit of luck he could have had a third place at the last race and a second place here [in Monaco] and we'd be saying these two guys are going to be fighting it out for the championship."
Montoya, who has at least been able to spend time with his new-born son, is not to be underestimated and has proved the doubters wrong before.
His decision to move to McLaren from Williams, made at the end of 2003, looked to have backfired spectacularly this time last year when his future team made their worst start to a season in decades.
Nobody is questioning the wisdom of that decision now. Montoya could easily win Sunday's race in Germany and McLaren still believe they have the most exciting and closely-matched line-up in Formula One.
"They are both going to win races this year," said Whitmarsh. "People talk about contrasting personalities, the Latin and the Iceman, but the reality is in my personal opinion that they are much more similar than perhaps people project."
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