Montreal rolls out red carpet for American F1 driver Speed

America's only Formula One driver is getting the red-carpet treatment in Canada. California native Scott Speed will help F1 kick-start its North America doubleheader Sunday in Montreal.

Updated: June 8, 2007, 11:28 AM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

MONTREAL -- Scott Speed is enjoying being home again.

Speed, America's only Formula One driver, is based in the village of Fuschl Am See in the mountains of Austria. It's a picturesque area, where "The Sound Of Music" was filmed, and he enjoys living there.

Scott Speed
Clive Mason/Getty ImagesScott Speed's ninth place at Monaco was his best finish to date in the F1 ranks.

Between traveling to races around the world and F1 testing and PR commitments, Speed rarely gets time to go back to his real home in Manteca, Calif., which is near San Francisco.

But he managed to make it home for a few days during the break after the Monaco Grand Prix and before North America's F1 doubleheader consisting of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal on Sunday and then his home Grand Prix of the United States at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 17.

"I went home and I spent a day on the lake," Speed said. "I went on a lake with a bunch of my friends from karting and my little brother. We were on a boat and tubing and it was awesome. I had so much fun.

"I got way tanner because I was so white when I came back from Europe. Everyone was making fun of me."

With the short vacation over, Speed headed to Montreal. His fans here already have given him a warm welcome.

Last year, he was amazed at the reception he got in Indianapolis. Naturally, fans at the track cheered wildly for him, asked for his autograph and supported him with flags and banners. But people recognized him even when he walked around Indianapolis not wearing any team gear. It's been the same here in Montreal.

Speed arrives in Montreal on the wake of his best race to date in his season and a half of F1.

In Monaco, he qualified 18th but jumped up four places on the first lap in his Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari. After that, he drove consistently and kept the car off the walls on his way to finishing ninth.

"It's really good to be carrying this sort of result and the momentum that it brings to the whole team back across to North America for the next two races," Speed said. "But, to be honest, this result is not such a surprise. We had a great race in Malaysia, and Barcelona was looking awesome until a tire blew up.

"Australia [where he had another tire problem] was not looking too bad either, while in Bahrain I was taken out in the second corner. So every race has been 'not so bad.' It's just that we hadn't finished any."

Although the Monaco result was satisfying, Speed just missed making it into the points, which are paid out to the top-eight finishers in F1.

"It was just so frustrating that I couldn't have gone one better and given me and the whole team a well-deserved point after I made up more places than anyone else in the race," he said.

Now halfway though his second F1 season, Speed doesn't think he's driving any better than he was when he started.

To put that in perspective, Fernando Alonso has won the pole and the race in Monaco for the past two years.

"I remember driving in Monaco for Minardi [in 2001] and I was P18," Alonso said, "and I drive more or less in the same way."

Obviously, driving a Renault, as Alonso did in 2006, and a McLaren Mercedes, as he is this year, makes it possible to run at the front, which was impossible to do in a Minardi.

The same is true for Speed. Now with Red Bull ownership, Toro Rosso, formerly Minardi, has more resources to develop the car, but it is still one of the smallest teams in F1.

Speed says drivers have well-rounded racing skills by the time they get into F1 or they never would have made it in the first place.

"It is a common misconception that as you are going through years in F1 that you are massively improving as a driver," he said. "If that were the case we would never have made it to F1 in the first place because this is such a competitive field that only the best of the best make it normally. I mean, when everyone is at 99.99 percent there is not any room to improve.

"Where you improve is how you handle situations, how you approach the whole F1 weekend, how you politic yourself around the paddock to maybe put yourself in better positions. But you don't learn how to go faster."

As for the races in Montreal and Indianapolis, Speed is not sure how competitive his Toro Rosso Ferrari will be.

Both tracks require good brakes, and the Toro Rosso STR2 is strong in that department. It's also strong in riding over curbs, which is essential for a quick lap in Montreal. But the STR2 does not have a seamless-shift gearbox like many of the teams, and that hurts the car's acceleration, which is another important element for these two tracks.

Speed finished 10th in last year's Canadian Grand Prix. He qualified 13th for the United States Grand Prix only to get eliminated in a multicar accident on the first-turn.

He vividly remembers the rousing reception the crowd gave him at Indy when he walked back to the pits.

Speed is back home again. And his fans are already cheering for him in Montreal. And he will get an even more enthusiastic reaction when he arrives in Indianapolis.

"I definitely feel very welcome here in North America," Speed said.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.