Juan Pablo Montoya on working with Helmut Marko: He is angry with me to this day

Michelle Foster
Juan Pablo Montoya chatting with Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko. United States, October 2017.

Juan Pablo Montoya chatting with Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko. United States, October 2017.

With a reputation for being hard on his drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya has recalled his year under Helmut Marko’s leadership, saying it was “tough at the time”.

But, he concedes, the Austrian made him a “better driver”.

Montoya raced for Marko’s RSM Marko in the International Formula 3000 back in 1997, the Colombian securing three race wins on his way to second place in the championship.

It was a year in which he often was shouted out, Marko telling him – as he some times does with Yuki Tsunoda these days – that he was “crazy and everything”.

“It was tough at the time, but in the end he made me a better driver,” Montoya said in a wide-ranging interview with Motorsport.com.

“He always yelled that I had a lot of problems and that I was crazy and everything. But he did so with the right intentions. He was pushing me all the time to be a better person.

“I remember one time he invited me to have lunch at his house. I was served a salad, but I didn’t eat vegetables in those days.

“He then made me run back to his office. It was more than an hour of running. At the time I was very angry with him, but looking back I realise it was his way of pushing me forward.”

But it wasn’t all yelling and hour-long runs.

PlanetF1 recommends

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem confirms surrendering of F1 control in letter
The four teams that could be tempted to switch to Honda power in 2026
Fred Vasseur believes ‘good relationship’ with former housemate Toto Wolff is an ‘advantage’

“Living in Graz and everything, it’s been a good experience for me. I hardly had any money at the time, but Helmut took good care of me,” Montoya added.

Montoya missed out on the title by 1.5 points, losing to Ricardo Zonta who wrapped up the title at the penultimate race in Mugello.

The 47-year-old reckons Marko is still smarting over that.

“He is angry with me to this day,” he declared. “He thinks I deliberately let the championship run in the penultimate round in Mugello.

“We simply had the top gear set incorrectly. Every time I went to top gear, the engine started to stutter, because the gear was made too long.

“Jason Watt sat in front of me. I always rode towards him with playful ease, after which I seemed to pass him. But once in top gear, he drove away from me again. And so it went throughout the race.

“That was so frustrating. But Marko still thinks I gave away the championship.”

He left RSM Marko after just one season, opting instead to sign with Super Nova Racing with whom he won the 1998 championship. He also signed as Williams’ test driver, personally invited by Sir Frank Williams to try a Formula 1 car.

“After Zonta won the championship,” he recalled, “I won the last race in Jerez and was invited by Frank Williams to watch the Formula 1 race. He then offered me the Formula 1 test in Barcelona.

“And it was only after they decided to take me as a test driver after that test that I was offered that seat at Super Nova. That F1 test was in December, so that was a month or two after that Mugello race.”

In fact such is Montoya’s admiration for Marko, his son Sebastian has signed as a Red Bull junior.

“Most teams give their drivers star treatment and pamper you completely. But Helmut wants to make a man of you and believes that if you want to achieve something, you have to fight for it.

“I think it’s great that Sebastian has been given this opportunity. He can learn a lot there and they have a very good training program.

“Now it’s up to him. I am here for him and will give him all the help I can, but everyone knows how Red Bull works: he will have to perform.

“I hope it works out well for Sebastien, that he can show great things and that he can grow within Red Bull.”