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When Villeneuve’s shock return thwarted an F1 rookie

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Jacques Villeneuve’s return to Method 1 at Renault for the inaugural Chinese language Grand Prix in 2004 was a seminal second in Franck Montagny’s profession. Then a check driver for Renault, he had been the logical selection for the seat vacated by Toyota-bound Jarno Trulli. However as a substitute it was 1997 world champion Villeneuve who bought the nod for the ultimate three races of 2004 alongside Fernando Alonso.

Montagny says his contract “was clear that I used to be getting within the automotive” if one of many common drivers wanted changing. But it surely didn’t play out that method. He needed to wait till mid-2006, when he made his F1 race debut on the tail-end Tremendous Aguri outfit, after being ignored for the cameo at Renault after which for a drive at Sauber additionally taken by Villeneuve for 2005.

Occasions had been set in movement by Trulli’s early departure from Renault. The Italian’s impending transfer to Toyota for 2005 was introduced ahead after a disappointing efficiency on the Italian Grand Prix, his final for the workforce he’d joined for 2002 instead of Giancarlo Fisichella. However the driver Renault boss Flavio Briatore had signed as his substitute, Fisichella, was nonetheless contracted to Sauber till the tip of 2004. Renault subsequently wanted a stop-gap.

On the face of it, a number of components appeared to favour Montagny. The 2-time Dallara Nissan champion was much better acquainted with the automotive than every other possibility accessible, having accomplished 14 check days within the R24 and 50 with the workforce previous to Trulli’s exit.

Villeneuve hadn’t pushed an F1 automotive in anger since his acrimonious departure from BAR on the eve of the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix, 11 months earlier than. It was removed from a certainty he’d be capable to adapt rapidly to the Michelin tyres both, having raced on Bridgestones whereas at BAR.

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There appeared little draw back to Renault giving a debut to a Frenchman. Though Briatore harboured ambitions of beating BAR to second within the constructors’ championship, there was realistically little driving on the tip of the season except Trulli’s substitute might hit the bottom working instantly and match workforce chief Alonso.

In what may very well be deemed a profitable season, it had already recorded a win courtesy of Trulli in Monaco, and the respective struggles of Williams and McLaren meant Renault was unlikely to overlook out on third. Furthermore, with out the stress of competing for a full-time race seat, the race outings would certainly solely enhance Montagny’s enter into testing the 2005 automotive.

Selling check driver Montagny appeared to take advantage of sense for Renault, however he was left on the sidelines wanting in

Photograph by: Sutton Photographs

“The whole lot was set, we had nothing to show anymore with the automotive, the workforce was ok for the 12 months,” displays Montagny. “I used to be positive to get within the automotive. I had a variety of mileage within the automotive, a number of races to go, so let’s get the third driver within the automotive, it’s a French man, with a French workforce, it was good so nothing to lose.”

However in F1 issues are not often ever so simple. Behind the scenes, the wheels had been already turning to carry Villeneuve again.

Given the circumstances of his exit from BAR, there may very well be few extra motivated to wade into battle towards it than Villeneuve. And the PR enchantment of getting considered one of solely two lively world champions on the grid in Renault colors – the opposite being Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, who had already secured his fifth straight title at Spa – proved an excessive amount of for Briatore to withstand.

“I used to be only a third driver, with no background. He was a world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, so what are you able to do?”
Franck Montagny

Montagny remembers the second Briatore apologetically knowledgeable him that Villeneuve would take over his automotive for a check at Silverstone three days after the Italian GP. He felt assured that he can be faster.

“When he informed me that, I used to be like ‘okay, I’ve no drawback with that’ as a result of I used to be used to the automotive,” he says. “Even when Jacques was coming, I used to be fairly positive I’d be quicker.”

Villeneuve spent a day within the automotive earlier than Montagny joined him aboard Alonso’s vacated machine for the ultimate day. The uncooked instances present that Villeneuve was 1.7s faster, however Montagny stresses that doesn’t inform the total story because of the differing nature of their programmes. In any case, Briatore’s thoughts was made up.

“That’s the best way it’s, you’ll be able to’t cope with it,” Montagny sighs. “I used to be only a third driver, with no background. He was a world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, so what are you able to do?”

Engineer Tim Wright labored for Renault’s check workforce on the time and remembers Montagny as “a completely good man” who willingly chipped in with such a humble activity as cleansing the truck.

Montagny was well-liked by Renault for his testing input and Wright believes he deserved his chance

Montagny was popular with Renault for his testing enter and Wright believes he deserved his likelihood

Photograph by: Mike Weston / Motorsport Images

“I am undecided why he did not get the break he deserved with Renault as a full-time driver as a result of he actually had the expertise,” notes Wright. “His suggestions was good, he was extremely popular with the entire workforce and would have fitted in.”

Historical past exhibits that Villeneuve’s comeback was not successful. Faring no higher than Trulli had, he didn’t register any factors, which on the time had been awarded all the way down to eighth place. He adopted up an eleventh place end in Shanghai, the place he not less than beat Schumacher after a uncommon off-day for the Ferrari man, with equally circumspect outings at Suzuka and Interlagos that yielded a pair of 10ths.

With Alonso unable to bother the rostrum within the closing stanza, Renault remained in third. But it surely mattered little to Villeneuve, who had shaken off some rust previous to taking up Fisichella’s seat at Sauber.

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“It was not good for the workforce, it was simply good for Jacques and good for the championship,” remarks Montagny. “Michael [Schumacher] was profitable the whole lot presently and instantly you carry again a world champion for the tip of the 12 months, it’s form of higher for the TV present. And that’s precisely what they did.”

However Montagny doesn’t go so far as suggesting he would have accomplished a greater job.

“I’m not the one who’s going to say that,” he replies when Autosport poses the query. “I don’t know. You don’t know the way it goes, I’d by no means accomplished a race earlier than. If I’d accomplished the identical [as Villeneuve], it’s already good.”

Wright is nonetheless assured that Montagny wouldn’t have let the workforce down. “I am positive Franck would have accomplished a greater job, particularly as he had examined alongside Alonso and knew how the workforce operated,” he suggests.

Montagny’s disappointment didn’t finish there. He says talks with Peter Sauber over becoming a member of the Swiss squad to interchange Fisichella for 2005 floor to a halt when it grew to become clear Villeneuve was Renault’s stand-in selection.

Villeneuve was lapped by winner Barrichello on his return in China

Villeneuve was lapped by winner Barrichello on his return in China

Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

“Sauber simply after that informed me; ‘if your personal workforce doesn’t need you within the automotive and there’s no cause that they don’t provide the alternative, you perceive that I’m a bit of bit on the sting to get you within the automotive,’” says Montagny. “That for me was clearly the tip.”

Montagny did make it onto the F1 grid in 2006 when he changed Yuji Ide, whose superlicence had been revoked by the FIA. However the SA05 he drove for seven grands prix was based mostly on a 2002 Arrows and Montagny states his aged chassis through which he managed a finest end of sixteenth at Monaco and Magny-Cours was 12 kilos heavier than that pushed by his team-mate Takuma Sato.

“I see myself form of fairly fortunate already, even when I didn’t have an opportunity to get in a automotive with Renault [in a race]”
Franck Montagny

“I knew the automotive was not going to carry out in any respect,” he explains. “It was simply to begin a Method 1 [race], I accepted only for that.”

Twenty years on, Canal+ TV pundit Montagny maintains he’s not bitter over the missed alternative at Renault in 2004.

“I had the prospect already to drive the automotive, to be a world champion as a check driver with Renault [in 2005],” he concludes. “I see myself form of fairly fortunate already, even when I didn’t have an opportunity to get in a automotive with Renault [in a race]. I had the prospect to be a part of the Method 1 circus, I’m nonetheless working in Method 1, I’m a contented man.”

Montagny did make it onto the F1 grid in 2006 with Super Aguri, but it was a desperately uncompetitive package based on a four-year-old chassis

Montagny did make it onto the F1 grid in 2006 with Tremendous Aguri, however it was a desperately uncompetitive package deal based mostly on a four-year-old chassis

Photograph by: Mark Capilitan

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