Montoya was the new kid on the block at the start of last season, entering the grand prix circus in a blaze of publicity after winning the IndyCar title in 1999, and the Indy 5000 champion a year later.
Such was the store set in Montoya’s talent he was being touted as a future Formula One champion and such was his confidence, the Colombian took on the reigning king Schumacher from the word go.
His impudence in the opening three races in Australia, Malaysia and Brazil was the cornerstone of an uncompromising battle which would last throughout the year, with words often exchanged to spice up the affair.
Schumacher ultimately had the final say, putting Montoya in his place by taking the fourth of his current five world titles, with the 26-year-old finishing a long way off the German as he was forced to settle for sixth in the drivers’ championship.
Their on-and-off track antagonism was expected to continue this season but while Schumacher has again blown away the opposition, he has developed a healthy respect for the man hoping to at least finish runner-up in only his second season in Formula One.
“My relationship with him has changed,” said Schumacher, fresh from a two-week break and determined to continue his total domination of the sport for the final five races of the season, starting with Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
“To be honest, there’s two reasons for the change. The main one is that we now know each other, whereas before we didn’t.
“He arrived in Formula One a long time before he actually did because the press had written and talked about him for ages and some of us, including myself, didn’t know him.
“I knew he had done well in America, and that’s it, but doing well in America does not give any guarantee you do well here (in Formula One).
“He was also being very optimistic about his opportunities, and I didn’t agree with his philosophy.
“But if you see him these days and what he is saying now compared to what he used to say, it is very different.
“It is why I personally feel much more comfortable with him, and I’ve actually got to like him because I have found the person behind the shield. I’m now getting on very well with him.”
While Schumacher might feel Montoya has matured as a driver and as a person, that does not mean the Colombian is going to ease up on a Hungaroring circuit which has become a favourite following his title triumph a year ago.
Montoya is a phenomenal 66 points adrift as he battles with BMW-Williams team-mate and Michael’s younger brother Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard for that second spot.
But the older Schumacher added: “I’m looking forward to the racing and the fighting, which never changes.
“It’s a great pleasure to have the four wheels around you and to go as fast as you can, so I will keep on racing and winning as many races as I can.”
Ferrari are also on the brink of a fourth successive constructors’ title, and but for bad luck dogging Barrichello, that could also have been wrapped up in record time.
The Brazilian has been plagued with problems on the grid in each of the last three races, while in contrast Schumacher’s car has barely put a wheel wrong, which has left the critics to again hint at favouritism in the Maranello camp.
“I know I have been very reliable, and we have worked very hard on this, but I’m sure they’ve tried exactly the same on Rubens’ car,” said Schumacher with regard to the team’s mechanics.
“Why some things happen in life you cannot find an explanation for. I could have been as unlucky as he has been because certainly he has had his portion of bad luck so far.”