Posted: Wednesday June 15, 2005 3:57PM; Updated: Wednesday June 15, 2005 3:57PM
Worldwide F1 fans -- for the most part -- have been supportive of Montoya's conspiricist thinking (the Montoya message boards were abuzz with sympathy), but in the US, Montoya and his sport remain an afterthought -- a curiosity best relegated to the back of our sports section, printed in agate type. The series has enjoyed modest ratings gains since moving to CBS in April and was primed to overtake the homegrown Indy Racing League as America's most-watched open wheel series. Then along came Danica and, well, the rest is history. Still, both series have further to travel before cutting into NASCAR's domestic monopoly on motorsports. Last weekend's race played to a 1.1 rating on CBS -- not bad for a Sunday, but not great when compared to the 5.1 the Pocono 500 turned on FOX the same afternoon.
Montoya is the first to admit he doesn't pay much attention to the Fords and Chevys -- dismissing their "technology" as stone-age when compared to the houses of Ferrari and Renault -- but his grasp of the sport is startling. He understands every subtility, every nuance and probably has a better handle on the rules than half the drivers running on the Nextel Cup. While he is no doubt envious of the popularity NASCAR, he sees the league's frenetic edits to the rulebook as a danger to the sport.
"The thing is, Americans like big numbers, and they don't like one person to win," says Montoya, who boasts some experience in stock cars, having swapped rides with four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon before the 2003 Brickyard 400. "In Formula 1, it's more of a performance thing than a show. In NASCAR if a car is too fast, they'll restrict it not to be as quick. I think that's stupid. Why, if somebody spends more money making a better car, did a better job or came up with a smarter idea [do they] get penalized for being smarter?
"Put it this way," he adds, leaning forward in his chair, relying on his coarsened hands to make his points, "if Dodge is winning every race, they're going to put a penalty in that takes some downforce from the car, that puts more drag in the car -- they'll come up with something -- to make sure that car doesn't win again to make it more even. I think that's bloody unfair! Why are you going to hire more people, better people if after two races those guys are going to be behind you because they got penalized for being smarter?
"It makes the show look good, but the people in the show? They think it's crap." To truly appreciate the competition in Formula 1, Montoya says, you have to go behind the scenes. But until F1 drops the secrecy act and opens its teams and their stowed-away garages to reality TV-type scrutiny (doubtful, considering what Ferrari put me through just to get a few basic specs into our June 6 motorsports gatefold), the best we can hope for -- for now -- is to bump into Montoya on the street.
Better yet, he's doing Letterman on Friday. See if you can recognize him.