Chomping at the bit to go racing in Formula 3, Sebastián Montoya discovered quickly that patience was as much of a key ingredient for success as being rapid on track. The Colombian’s speed was undoubtable at times, but he believes that his pace had a lot more to show for it than 16th in the Standings.
Part of Hitech Pulse-Eight’s trio of rookies, Montoya’s rookie campaign was characterised by peaks and troughs in performance, going from a podium contender to languishing outside the points race-by-race.
Acknowledging the bumps in the road, the Red Bull Junior admits he was always chasing more. Learning how to reign that hunger in, he realised that getting points on the board on a consistent basis is far more important in the bigger picture.
“If you see where I usually was in the races and the charges I would do, 16th in the Championship doesn’t really show that,” Montoya remarked. “I think it all comes down a little bit to doing what (Gabriel) Bortoleto did really well this year, which is maximising your weekends and your points no matter what.
“Sometimes it’s better to stay in a position and get the points than try to go for a bit more. That’s the biggest lesson not only I learnt, but I think most of the drivers this year understood, that sometimes it’s better not to be the hero and just take whatever you can.
“The season was like a rollercoaster a little bit; I’m not going to lie. It’s funny because the weekends where I was slowest in my opinion were Spa and Melbourne, and in Spa I got a P6 finish and in Australia I got a podium in the Sprint Race. It’s a bit frustrating now because you go to weekends where you’re one of the quickest drivers and then you don’t score points, or maybe two or three.
“Then you go to a track where you’re half a second off and you get a podium or more points – and you’re like ‘wait, how?’ That’s something I have to try to understand and that I understood a little bit during the year is just being able to maximise week in, week out what you have. I think that makes a big difference, not only in experience, but also in the mentality of fighting for the Championship.”
Initially struggling to find his base and settle in across the three relatively unfamiliar circuits of Sakhir, Melbourne and Monaco, Montoya seemed to come into his own towards the latter half of the campaign.
Whilst the unforgettable atmosphere of his maiden podium in Australia stands out, it was altogether different type of race that became his highlight of the campaign. Qualifying P15 in Spielberg, Montoya had his work cut out for him, but he put on a fierce fightback to contend for a podium in the Feature Race.
Although contact on the final lap with Franco Colapinto cost him a top three finish, relegating him to 20th after a post-race penalty, the thrill of racing like that remained a moment for him to savour.
“Going from P15 to fighting for the podium on the last lap was one of the good drives I had this year and I think it showed a little bit of the speed that we had. It was just one of those times where you feel really connected with the car and what you’re doing is working well.
“On Lap 3, (Dino) Beganovic was second and I saw him and knew more or less what the gap was. So, I just started putting my pace down and slowly, little by little I started catching the leaders. With six or seven laps to go, I was P5, I was really quick and closing up to the leader. For me, that feeling of comfort that I’m the quickest car on track and I know what I’m doing really gave me a lot of security, and it was really fun.”
Unfortunately, incidents like those in Spielberg or a late-race collision in Monaco left Montoya with nine points-scoring finishes to his name. A 50% success rate, he puts the chequered run of results down to needing to adopt a different approach to what he’s become accustomed to.
Known for daring overtakes, the Hitech driver realised that his fierce opponents in the Championship were not going to yield easily and were pushing just as hard, so he needed to be more strategic about when to risk a move.
“A little bit of rookie mistakes and racing situations. Sometimes you’re just so eager and trying to get more and more. My dad always taught me that if there is a possibility of making a move, go for the move and don’t wait behind. I took that saying on and ever since I was little, anytime there was somewhat of a move I could maybe do, I’d just send it and most of the time it would stick.
“To be honest, I’ve learnt to manage those moves quite well, but in F3, the racing level is quite high and we’re all quite aggressive, so it’s difficult. The racing is so hard, and you really want to try to maximise what you have, but at the same time, the other person is also trying to do that. Mistakes happen, sometimes you’re just a little bit too eager and you go over the limit.”
Reflecting on the 2023 season, Montoya is astute to where his strengths and weaknesses lie. Whilst maturing and implementing more of the level-headed approach needed to weather whatever comes his way on track, he admits although his pace is there, he needs to become more self-assured in his abilities to be able to capitalise on them.
“There are always things that you could do differently by the time you look back at it and if you don’t, then that means you haven’t really progressed. In Qualifying in Bahrain, I made a small mistake that cost me the top five and that put me out of the top 12, so that made the rest of the weekend quite miserable. Instead of fighting for lots of points and a podium, you’re trying to get back into the points and salvage something.
“Being in P8 to P16, more or less everyone is just trying to get into the points and if you’re in the P9/P10 bubble, you’re scrapping quite a lot. I think that mentality has changed a little bit in the sense of the races being quite long, the tyre degradation is quite high, so you just need to be patient.
“I think I just need to be a bit more confident in myself to maximise my driving fully. Throughout the season, I was having challenges with the car that I couldn’t fully maximise, and I started to find it little by little. At the end of the year, in the race, I feel like I was always one of the quickest guys on track, but I was never in the correct position I had to be in to be able to maximise the speed fully and try to finish on the podium or win the race.”
He concluded: “No matter if you’re fast or slow, just one by one, lap by lap, you just need to try to analyse the situation you’re in and try to maximise that to the fullest.”