McLaren has announced that Juan Pablo Montoya has left the team following the announcement that he will switch to NASCAR for the 2007 season.
A statement issued by the team confirmed that test driver Pedro de la Rosa has been promoted into the second race seat alongside Kimi Raikkonen for the French Grand Prix – marking the Spaniard's first appearance since the Bahrain GP last season, when he claimed a fifth place finish after being called upon to replace an injured Montoya.
The decision to replace the Colombian with immediate effect comes after rumours circulated in the Spanish press that the driver had angered McLaren chiefs with the announcement of his NASCAR move on Sunday. Spanish newspaper Marca claims that Montoya hadn't spoken with the team prior to informing the world of his decision to switch to the American oval series.
While he wasn't expected by many to be retained alongside Fernando Alonso next season – with the team having not taken up the option it had on his contract – McLaren hadn't actually told Montoya that he wasn't wanted, with his announcement of a move elsewhere further straining the relationship between the two after a difficult first half of the 2006 season.
Looking to find the best solution for both parties, team and driver reached 'a mutual agreement' for Montoya to leave early and he will now spend time in Miami preparing for his new venture, with NASCAR team boss Chip Ganassi having already expressed a desire to give the newcomer some races in the Busch Series this year before he begins his assault on the Nextel Cup in 2007.
"I know that it will be a tough transition, but I'm really excited about the opportunity to move into the NASCAR championship," Montoya said, "I have enjoyed most of my time in Formula One and I'm grateful for this opportunity to settle my personal life and concentrate on my future career."
McLaren team boss Ron Dennis said he felt the decision taken was the right one for both team and driver to allow Montoya to focus on next season.
"Juan Pablo is an exciting driver and immensely likeable character who will undoubtedly make a successful transition to the NASCAR scene," he said, "We have agreed that, with so many things happening in Juan Pablo's life right now, he should take some time out of the car and prepare professionally and personally for the future."
While de la Rosa said he was relishing the chance to race the MP4/21 – a car he said he knows better than anyone else – there has been no further indication of who will take the second seat for next season, although Crash.net understands that de la Rosa is now a frontrunner for a possible race seat in 2007, even though two Spaniards racing for the same team sounds as likely as the once-rumoured Renault partnership of Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen.
Like most things involving Montoya this was sort of unexpected from my part, in a way, you'd think he was going to finish the season. But then there was those rumors from some weeks ago about Mclaren telling Montoya that his services no longer were needed.
bye bye Monty Pablo, have fun goin' 'round in circles.
Now he has the chance of doing something noone's done before
He's already won the Indy 500 and the Monaco GP and I guess what remains is Daytona for NASCAR? and after that there's Le Mans....
Pretty cool if he pulls it off.