Although the Formula One dream - from a racing point of view - burned only briefly for Franck Montagny, the Frenchman continues to approach his role in the top flight with the same enthusiasm as his other passions.

"I am happy with my life as it is, I am not going to change it," says the 29-year old Frenchman, who is in his first season with Panasonic Toyota Racing having dallied with both Renault and Super Aguri in seasons past. Despite being touted as one of France's rising talents as he made his way up the ladder, it was in sportscars and as a test driver in F1 that he made his name, getting only a brief chance to race grands prix with SAF1 following the team's failed experiment with Yuji Ide.

Since moving to Toyota, Montagny has brought his own unique style to the team, with his friendly attitude mixed with dedication to his craft and that is hardly surprising
from a driver who grew up surrounded by all things car-related in the south of France.

His father Jean, now 55 and the owner of a jet ski and buggy rental service, shaped young Franck's outlook on life with his own rallying exploits, helped always by mother Michelle.

"I think it is a family affair," Montagny Jr says, "My father was real crazy about motorsport, he was a rally man and my mother followed it all the time. I had no choice!

"My father was a car salesman and he also raced in amateur rallying. He did well, he raced well and I was always with him. When I was young I was always in the garage, with the tyres, the fuel and all that stuff from a very young age.

"I was three or four years old when he was competing, so I was too young to help but I went all the time with my mother. She would take care of me and the crew, they were basically his friends who went rallying with him."

That early exposure to motorsport helped shape Montagny's future career, but his decision to take up racing was very much his own choice.

"When you have good parents, they don't push you too much - they respect your choice, but they make you also make your choice," he explains, "They don't take the
decisions for you, they make you decide and that is not easy when you are a young kid.

"They are always there but in the background. In case I make a mistake or a wrong step they will be there to support me or change things, that is really good."

Even his hobbies are shared with his parents, and Montagny shares his love of all things fast with his father on the south coast of France, joining him in buggy driving across the sand dunes, jet skiing over the waves or even his latest passion - kite surfing.

"I just recently discovered kite surfing and I think I am going to spend most of my summer doing it because it's really cool," Montagny reveals, "It's a new game - I am like a little boy and I like all those kind of games where you feel the power of the machine."

But there is a serious element to Montagny's outdoor exploits and he is convinced the physical and mental demands of his off-road racing, particularly riding motocross bikes, help him on track as a F1 driver.

"For sure, it is very complimentary to motor racing," he says, "It is very good for my reflexes because the ground is not stable, it is always moving. There are rocks, sand, everything. It is good for reaction time, reflexes and strength."

The Frenchman's other passion is his hair salon in Barcelona, which he and an associate bought two years ago. It not only offers the best hair cut in town, but also showcases the latest trends in fashion, art, photography and music.

Fusion, close to the world famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, opens its doors every Thursday evening for a very special party, where guests can sample the latest fashions while enjoying the best sounds in one of Europe's most vibrant cities.

"The name comes from the style of the place - it's all about 'fusion'," Montagny says, "I don't know much about hairdressing, but I love music and clothes and we try to help young clothes designers and artists in Barcelona.

"We try to mix it up whenever we want - there are no rules, so we show some photography exhibitions, some paintings, some clothes, whatever we want. At the beginning, it was only a hairdressers but then we did a bit of art and photos. Now we have different exhibitions of clothing from international designers inside, some sunglasses. But, in three months, maybe we change again - it depends."

As well as keeping his finger on the pulse of European style, Montagny has one extra reason to enjoy Fusion.

"I always get my hair cut at Fusion - I bought the place, so it's better to go when it's free!" he jokes.

With his home in Switzerland, his business in Spain and his whirlwind F1 travel schedule, the Frenchman gets little time to visit his native France, so this weekend's French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours is as good excuse a any.

"I like to be back in France because I am never in France - maybe I spend ten or 15 days a year there," he sighs, "I am always happy to go back there and see some friends."

Montagny also has a soft spot for a venue which some in F1 have criticised.

"I like the circuit. It is one of the few where there are very fast chicanes, downhill, uphill, long and quick corners," he explains, "The speed of the car through the corners, you can feel that there. Maybe because it is France also, but I like it. I used to race quite a lot there and I used to win quite a lot there as well!

"I know it is not the most popular venue, most people say they don't like it, but I guess it is not because of the track but because of everything around - hotels, access and facilities. I understand, but the circuit by itself, just for driving, is interesting."

A positive outlook as always from Panasonic Toyota Racing's very own flying Frenchman, who is living life to the full in his first season as the team's third driver.

"I am already happy about what I have got," he concludes, "I am driving one of the most beautiful cars in the world. You have to be conscious that there are only 25 or so people on earth who can do this job. I am thankful for that."

 

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