Montoya relegated to the mere supervisor of a superior car
Monday 11 July 2005
This was the tantalising breath of promise behind the more sombre - and familiar - reality that his victory was still another triumph for one of the teams with currently the best engineers and designers.
The fact that Montoya and his Mercedes-McLaren team-mate, the absurdly, ruinously handicapped Kimi Raikkonen, had cars that put them in a fast lane of their own may have brought us back to the roaring debate about Formula One's need to create a more competitive balance between the best drivers - but it didn't obscure the dazzling results that could flow from the sport getting a few basic things right.
The first issue on the agenda this morning must surely be that the intrigue of Montoya's finely judged and finely realised triumph over the brilliant young Spaniard Fernando Alonso in his Renault could have been hugely enhanced if Raikkonen had been able to claim his qualifying position of second on the grid rather than being penalised 10 places because of his team's need - for the second week in succession - to change their engine.
For an equivalent absurdity in some other sport you might imagine Wayne Rooney starting at left-back or Brian Lara going in ninth wicket down.
Montoya, Raikkonen and Alonso fighting it out hand-to-hand would surely not have restricted take-over moves to the dogfights back in the struggle for minor placings.
Formula One plainly has a superb young generation of drivers fighting for the spoils being currently surrendered by the old emperor, Michael Schumacher, and his slumping Ferrari team, which made it doubly depressing that the third-placed Raikkonen came off the podium with the demeanour of someone who was leaving a scaffold not because of clemency but a delay in the programme.
Why had Raikkonen been obliged to battle his way from the middle of the grid without any serious chance of winning the race - a fact that he derided with the fastest lap of the race? It was because of an oil pump failure in practice. Could anything be more indicative of a sport that has buried itself in the oil and the computers of the pit lane rather than clearing away all obstacles to the greatest possible spectacle on the track? It meant that, at the vital head of the race, moments of memorable action could be counted on much less than half of one hand.
First was the splendour of Montoya's opening move, a sublime and nerveless subjection of Alonso and Britain's endlessly hyped Jenson Button - 92 runs now without a maiden victory - on the way to the first bend. It was plain enough then that Montoya had the poise and the ability and the engine and the car balance to hold his advantage, the chief source of conjecture concerning his team's strategy and the weight of their desire for his stablemate Raikkonen not to surrender any more championship points to Alonso.
Then came a small reproduction of the drama of the first bend, when, after his first, slick fuel stop, Montoya streaked back on to the course a fraction ahead of the Spaniard. There was much more than half a race to be run, but the implacable realities of Formula One were securely in place. Montoya would win failing some mechanical catastrophe.
Here again we had the crucial failure of Formula One to come anywhere near its true dramatic potential. Montoya is a street fighter, a tearaway, but yesterday his talent was devoted to the supervision of a superior car. A billion pound industry needs to be more inventive, to show more of an imagination in creating competition out on the edge.
As Montoya beautifully managed his advantage, saying afterwards, "it was just enough," you couldn't help recalling a statement from him a few years ago: "I think I have got under Schumacher's skin. I certainly hope I have because it is my job. It is not just beating down Schumacher, it is the need to be first."
This was Montoya talking after his sensational arrival in Formula One, when he made Schumacher, of all people, think about the possibility of a serious new challenge with one of the most brilliant overtaking moves in track history. After rocketing from the grid yesterday he was not required to do anything of that order. He simply nurtured an engine - and didn't make a mistake. He should be doing more than that. So should they all.
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