Juan Pablo Montoya offers F1 advice: follow IndyCar and NASCAR’s lead to regain fans, TV viewership

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Juan Pablo Montoya has raced in numerous motorsports series, including Formula One, IndyCar, CART and NASCAR.

So when Montoya offers suggestions, he knows what he’s talking about.

That’s the case with F1, where Montoya recently told AutoSport that the international racing series could learn a few lessons from its motorsports counterparts in America, particularly IndyCar.

With F1 having downturns in at-track attendance and viewership, much like the same battle NASCAR has fought the last several years due to the poor economy in the U.S., Montoya thinks F1 should study what’s going right of late, particularly in IndyCar and its engagement of fans.

“(To get fans engaged), they ought to look at IndyCar,” Montoya said. “I think IndyCar does the best job of looking after its fans.

“It’s very different (for fans), just walking around seeing the cars. In the garage in NASCAR, the drivers are never there. The cars are there but the drivers are always in the motorhome. (In) F1, (the paddock) is always closed. It’s so complicated. There is no right answer.”

Montoya won a CART championship, an Indianapolis 500 victory, and seven F1 races before a seven-season/two wins tenure in NASCAR.

Now that he’s back in IndyCar and has returned to his open-wheel roots, Montoya shows that he still has some affinity for F1 and its troubles.

His No. 1 suggestion on how to “fix” F1?

“Number one, F1 has to change the sound,” he said. “It is a really hard compromise because they all talk about saving money, but at the end of the day F1 has never been about that.

“They still spend all the money in the world. One team there could probably sponsor the whole series here (in IndyCar).”

Montoya also said F1’s teams and the league as a whole could learn a great deal from both NASCAR’s and IndyCar’s efforts to attract fans, particularly with social media engagement, as well as the latter’s numerous autograph sessions at every race, plus fan-friendly and accessible paddocks.

As a result, it’s not surprising that IndyCar especially has shown significant attendance and especially TV rating gains in the last two years, particularly with its TV deal with NBC and the NBC Sports Network.

“The people that best understand it … NASCAR is the best at understanding that at the end of the day it’s a show,” he said. “Formula 1, being very European, they think it’s a sport. And it is a sport. But the way it’s played … the fans have to like it.”

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Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.