Monaco's challenges truly unique

Updated: May 20, 2004, 6:51 PM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to

Juan Montoya
MONACO -- Juan Pablo Montoya likes riding a motorcycle around his bedroom.

Okay, he doesn't really do that, but Nelson Piquet once described racing around the twisty, narrow barrier-lined Monaco street track as being rather like riding a motorcycle 'round his bedroom.

Montoya, like Piquet, loves the challenges that Monaco throws at drivers and cars. And thanks to his two years of competing in CART in North America, he has plenty of experience with the tight confines of the Monaco track.

"It's tight, very tight," he said of Monaco. "It's special. The place and the track are special. It's very demanding, very tricky, there are so many tricks around this place; it's horrendous.

"It's fun. I like it because I did so many street courses especially in America. Actually, now, as the years go by, the first few laps get harder. But in America you have like five or six street courses in a year."

Montoya won the pole here in 2002 and the race in 2003. Things didn't go as smoothly in 2001.

"That first year I shunted during the race," he said. "I had major oversteer, and I was punted head-on into the wall."

Speeding around just fractions of an inch from steel barriers and concrete walls is not for the faint hearted. Montoya says his biggest scares come from trying to keep control of the car through the fast, tricky and bumpy Casino bend.

Looking ahead to the race, Montoya wasn't sure just how competitive his Williams BMW would be this year. The car certainly won't be as competitive as it was in 2002 and 2003, but Montoya remains somewhat confident.

"It should be pretty good," he said. "My car seems to be very good around the slow speed corners.

The low point of Williams BMW's 2004 season was the recent Spanish Grand Prix. The Barcelona circuit doesn't forgive cars that are lacking in performance in any area. If you have a weakness in your car package it will be most apparent at a track like Barcelona. And Williams experienced just that.

"I think we need everything," Montoya said. "We need quite a bit more power, more grip, more downforce..."

It was here at Monaco last year that things really turned around for the Williams BMW team that had a slow start to the season. Montoya won in Monaco and followed that up with four second places, a third and another victory in the next seven races.

Montoya's teammate Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, finished fourth in Monaco last year and followed that up with a second and two victories.

"The car was brilliant the whole (2003) season after Monaco, and we had the chance of winning everywhere," Schumacher said.

But Schumacher said a similar turnaround is going to be hard to pull off this year.

"It is more difficult this year because last year we struggled mechanically with the car," he said. "We made quite big changes in these races (in 2003) and went in other directions than we had in previous years, and that helped the car a lot. This year it will be more difficult because we already got the best out of the existing car, so we are basically waiting for improvements from the factory."

"Williams is a strong team and has good people," Schumacher added. "It is a good car, but not good enough to win yet. For whatever reason it seems to take us a bit longer to understand that aerodynamics part of it because mechanically the car is very good. Tire wise we have the same as any other Michelin runner, so that is fine. Engine wise we still have a very strong engine if not the strongest. So aero might be the only part where we lack a little bit."

Finally, one last Monaco aside.

Charging around the tricky Monaco street circuit is a blast, as Montoya says, but the rest of the Grand Prix week can get pretty annoying.

Schumacher used to live in Monaco but now resides in a country home in Austria. Montoya and his wife Connie live in Monaco, and Montoya says it's normally a quiet, peaceful town where he can walk around without being hounded for autographs.

Race week in Monaco, however, is a different story. Things get very crowded and very hectic.

"Everybody knows you (here) but they're very respectful," Montoya said of the other 51 weeks of the year. "If I lived here and I didn't race F1, even though there was an F1 race, I'd probably leave here. If you go to the supermarket, it's a nightmare. Anywhere you want to go. You want to have dinner, you got to have a reservation. Even if you want to go to the toilet, you need a reservation!"

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and