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Q&A with Super Aguri's Franck Montagny

Written by: Adam Cooper

Eifel, Germany – 5/8/2006

After two years as Renault’s main test driver Franck Montagny was dropped by the team and his manager Flavio Briatore at the end of last year, after the team boss decided that the Frenchman was never going to make it as an F1 driver. Questions about his fitness, due to leg injuries suffered earlier in his career, have dogged the former Nissan World Series winner for years, and it appeared that he would never get a chance to become his country’s next Grand Prix driver. However, Briatore did try and get him into Jordan last year – and he got as far as a Friday test session at the Nurburgring. But an unexpected chance to make his F1 debut at the very same venue came when Super Aguri rested regular driver Yuji Ide, and having already contacted Montgany about testing, he was the obvious man for the job.

Q: This is a weekend that you probably thought would never happen…

"That’s true. It’s been quite crazy, quite good, quite fun, a lot of emotion, a lot of everything. In the end I did my first race. I didn’t finish it, but I took part, and I’m quite happy. I know the car, I know what it is, but I don’t care too much. It’s just good to be part of the circus."

Q: How did you find out that you were going to drive?

"I didn’t know until Wednesday night. They called me on the Tuesday before and told me do you want to come in 10 days to the Nurburgring, we’ve got a third car, it would be nice to have you. Then I cam here on Wednesday, and they said you’re doing the race. I was not sure… To do the testing, I was not scared about it, because it was my job for two years. But I didn’t drive anything for five months, just 50 laps with a GP2 car. Nothing else."

Q: Were you basically worried that you didn’t want to do a bad job without any preparation?

"The thing was it was going to be hard physically, I didn’t know the team, I didn’t know the car, or anything. It was quite scary at the beginning, but when we started the first session straight away I was as fast as Sato, so that was good. During the race I had a lot of pressure, but it wasn’t too bad."

Q: How did things go for you through Friday and Saturday?

"It was just working. Friday was normal stuff, like testing, and you work on it. The only problem was you start with a set of new tyres on Friday morning, you put a set on on Friday afternoon, and the track has changed massively, and it’s quite difficult to understand the set-up of the car and how it goes. That was the main difficulty, to guess how the car would be."

Q: And Bridgestone was new to you…

"A lot of new stuff, engine, Bridgestone, the tires, the car, V8. Everything."

Q: We know the car is a bit of a compromise. Is it what you expected?

"I was not expecting anything, to be truthful. I was just expecting to drive, and finally it happened."

Q: Was the qualifying session a bit difficult?

"A lot of problems with the red flag, with starting the car, many little things."

Q: How did the race go for you?

"It was good to be on the starting grid. I took it easy and I didn’t want to crash on the first corner. I knew it would happen, and it did. But I didn’t crash, and I did my first lap quite OK, and I was quite happy. After that I got I into traffic, and that was quite hard to manage. It was my first race – I don’t know what to say, really!"

Q: What happened to you in the end?

"I had a problem with the hydraulics, and before that I had a problem with shifting and everything. In the end there was a fire. It was a leak, and it got on he exhaust, and it caught fire. It was a shame, and the marshals were a bit slow."

Q: Do you know if you are doing the next race?

"On Tuesday I will know. We will see. I’ll take it easy. If they give me more, I’ll take more. If they don’t, I will be happy about what I did."

Q: Did you have much contact with the Renault guys this weekend?

"With the mechanics, yes, because the mechanics are good friends. But I was not so much in contact with all the chiefs!"

Q: So you haven’t seen Flavio?

"No, no."

Q: Do you think you’ve proved a point – you did all those days of testing with Renault, and they never gave you an opportunity…

"Well, when you set the fastest lap of all the cars on a track, you’re not too bad, and when the car is World Champion, then the work done is not too bad."
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