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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
January 11, 2003
1


Verstappen Delighted With F1 Return
In just over seven weeks time', highly-popular Dutch pilot Jos Verstappen will reacquaint himself with the Grand Prix grid.

With a year spent warming the bench behind him - after the unceremonious Arrows ousting - the 30-year-old from Montford has put together a strong budget and will re-launch a career with the little Anglo-Italian Minardi team.

'I am really pleased that I will be on the starting grid again next season,' he said as the press conference in Rotterdam, new boss Paul Stoddart at his side, concluded.

'I have always believed I would return to the highest level.'

He says that Minardi, with himself, a promising new chassis, F3000 champion teammate Justin Wilson and the lauded Cosworth engine, may prove to be a team set to make 'quite a bit of progress' in '03.

Verstappen thanked his manager and former driver Huub Rothengatter, and last-minute sponsor Trust Computer Products; who pumped up the final capital and staged the Dutch press conference.

'They have helped to ensure that the Dutch race fans will have plenty to enjoy next season,' he said.

It is still expected that fellow Dutchman Christijan Albers, who missed out on the Faenza race seat when his sponsors failed to agree terms with Minardi, will move into the reserve and test role.

Minardi, having signed on to the new Heathrow Agreement governing testing restrictions, will field an exclusive development pilot throughout 2003 to drive the spare car on Fridays.

'It is highly likely that Christijan will drive German Touring Cars again in 2003,' the 23-year-old's manager, Lodewijk Varossieau, said.

But the youngster will, ideally, spearhead his racing duties with a continued interest in Formula One. 'If possible he will try to get some more experience as Formula One driver,' he said.

'This might be attained through a position with Minardi or another team that has shown serious interest.'







Slight Changes Ensure Wilson Debut
The modifications are only slight, but a tweak here and there have ensured Justin Wilson a debut on the 2003 Melbourne Grand Prix grid.

'The moment I learnt I couldn't stand in for Alex Yoong last year was the lowest point in my career,' Wilson explained in Birmingham this week.

'That's when I felt it wasn't ever going to happen, but fortunately it turned out to be the catalyst that made it work for me.'

A week after he failed to squeeze into the PS02, an apologetic Minardi boss Paul Stoddart assured the former F3000 champion that he'd do all he can to accommodate the new car for his lanky stature.

Standing at six foot three, Wilson discovered the hard way that Formula One's technical regulations are framed to fit a driver of up to 190 centimeters - just one or two shy.

The PS03 Minardi, as Wilson reveals, is not all that different to the one he failed to squeeze inside last August: 'All they did is modify a few things internally where my knees, heels and feet are positioned,' says Wilson.

'It's just a few centimeters, which makes the difference between whether I fit in or not.

'It's a big thing because they have to work out how to do it without compromising the safety of the car and its performance.'

But, he adds, it was not an overly complicated process: 'I feel as if I'm in a position now where I'm able to drive the car, and drive it competitively.

'It's as comfy as anything I've driven before.'

The 24-year-old Sheffield racer heads to Faenza this weekend for a final seat fitting and to learn the impending test schedule.







Alex Yoong Welcomes Junior To World
Former Minardi driver Alex Yoong welcomed a new baby son into the world early yesterday morning.

'He was crying his lungs out from the moment of delivery,' said the 26-year-old Malaysian, preparing to embark on a new racing adventure in Champcars.

'Maybe he'll be a good swimmer,' said the new Dad - adamant that junior will not dive headlong into the shark-infested waters of Formula One or motor-racing.

The struggling rookie failed to qualify his black racer three times in 2002, forced onto the bench by the Grand Prix of Hungary staged in Budapest.

At Monza, Indy and Suzuka, though, Yoong impressively rounded out a seventeen-race stint at the pinnacle of motorsports - his best result a seventh place since debuting at the 2002 Italian Grand Prix.

The Kuala-Lumpur born charger's wife, Arianna, gave birth by Caesarean section to a healthy boy tipping the scales at 3.1 kg and 52.5 centimeters in length.







Briatore Explains Renault Test Option
Flavio Briatore has explained that an open-mind led Renault to join the small group of privateers for Friday testing.

The Italian, team principal of the Enstone/Viry-based operation, finished fourth in the Championship last year just behind big-three competitors Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.

It was with surprise, then, that they cancelled a year of free on-track development for a novel FIA initiative to cut costs for the struggling independents.

He said: 'Although the press seem to have formed the opinion that the Heathrow agreement was designed with the smaller teams in mind, we at Renault are open minded enough to evaluate any opportunity that is presented to us.'

Three Renault cars will join the contenders of Jordan and Minardi for an extra two-hour test session at all sixteen calendar Grand Prix events this year.

In return, Renault will give up a hectic development calendar for just ten-days of additional, in-season track testing.

Briatore explains: 'Our evaluation showed there to be many benefits to engage in this agreement for 2003. We consider it a creative solution.'

The boss explains the primary motivation in taking up the option is to give the drivers and engineers more time to 'dial in' to the particular circuit that Formula One is racing on.

'This has particular benefits, as you can imagine, on the circuits that we can not test on,' he says, adding that 21-year-old newcomer Fernando Alonso will acutely profit as he returns to the racing fold.

'Conversely,' he Italian adds, 'The teams that work to the 'Suzuka' agreement have only one hour to set their cars up before the first qualifying session.'







McNish: Renault Role 'Next Best Thing'
A testing role with Renault is the next best thing to a Formula One racing seat, insists Scotsman Allan McNish.

The 32-year-old from Dumfries, dumped by Toyota at the end of his first Grand Prix season, was contemplating a racing continuance in the Indy Racing League or back in sportscars.

But the technical and set-up expert will now accompany French manufacturer Renault F1 to all sixteen Grands Prix this year to take part in Friday GP testing.

'Obviously I'd prefer to be racing but this is the best situation I could have, apart from a race seat,' he urged.

'I was looking at doing something in the United States but Renault contacted me before the end of the year and when they explained what they were trying to do we sorted out a deal quickly.

He adds: 'It keeps me involved in F1. The deal means I will be testing on Fridays at every grand prix. I will have to approach each grand prix as if it was a race.

'The input I will be given will be real and live and not something historic.'

Allan McNish also steps into the reserve role - meaning that injury or illness to Fernando Alonso or Jarno Trulli will re-ignite his verve for the Grand Prix grid.

'I hope nothing does happen to them,' he continues, 'but it is the nature of motor sport that anything can happen.'

While other racing options nearly tempted the Scot from the Formula One paddock, McNish was determined 'not to let all the knowledge I have learned last year go to waste.

'It's a high profile position and a very different role to that of the 'traditional' test drivers.'

Frenchman Franck Montagny has also stepped into a Renault testing role and will steer the R23 for the ten days of allowed in-season testing.

McNish concludes: 'This is going to be a great challenge for me and I can't wait to get out on the track!'







Prestigious Award For Cosworth Racing
Formula One engine supplier Cosworth Racing has been awarded the prestigious Business of the Year Award at the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) Awards held in Birmingham.

Cosworth, supplying thirty percent of the F1 racing engines in grands prix this year, was also runner-up in the Export Achievement Award category.

It took the award by fending off fierce competition from WilliamsF1, Demon Tweaks and AP Racing.

On accepting the prize, Cosworth Racing Managing Director Brendan Connor said: 'We are delighted to receive this award which recognizes all the hard work of our employees over the last year.

'It is particularly rewarding against the backdrop of a difficult economic climate within the industry.'

In 2003, Cosworth will power the Jaguar, Jordan and Minardi Grand Prix teams, Ford Rally Sport in their WRC campaign, Aprilia in GP1 and the entire grid in the US-based CART Series.







Ricardo Zonta Returns To Formula One
Ricardo Zonta's formal return to the world of Formula One was announced in an effectively unscripted guise at the Toyota Racing launch this week.

The launch host, chatting to TF103 race-pilots Olivier Panis and Cristiano Da Matta on stage at Paul Ricard, channeled a question to the latter, 29-year-old Brazilian as he switches from CART to F1.

'A lot of work to do for you both,' the host noted - 'a lot of testing, 16 races. How are you going to cope with it all between the two of you, all this work?'

Cristiano Da Matta, a smile broadening, turned away from the audience and shouted something towards the rear of the stage - something in Portuguese along the lines of 'Hey Ricardo!

'Come out here a minute!'

Ricardo Zonta, a fellow Brazilian, 26 years old and returning to the Formula One cockpit after a disappointing BAR debut several years ago, sheepishly stalked onto the Toyota Racing stage.

Last year, he soared to a dominant Formula Nissan championship - performing well enough to get an important phone call from Toyota boss Ove Andersson in relation to season 2003.

'I'm the new third driver and reserve driver for Toyota Racing,' Zonta, from Curitiba, explained to the genuinely surprised audience of media.

'I'm going to help the team develop the car, testing a lot. We have a big program of tests and I am very happy to be the third driver.'

After the launch, Zonta explained the phone call from Ove Andersson on December 24th as a 'very nice Christmas present'.

The Brazilian, strapped for 2003 racing opportunities, was looking forward to an imminent trip to America to test-drive the Newman Haas CART challenger.

'I was at home in Brazil,' he explains.

'I was thinking about the test in the United States but when this chance up I came straight back to Europe. It was a very nice Christmas present.

'It was a bit unexpected, though I had talked to Toyota much earlier in the season but there were so many other drivers they were talking to.'

Zonta's last Grand Prix was at Jordan in 2001, the 26-year-old - with two years of prior experience alongside Jacques Villeneuve at BAR - filling in for an ill Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

2002 tester Ryan Briscoe, under long-term contract to Toyota, will continue to occasionally pilot the TF103 F1 machine this year as he embarks full-time on German F3.







No Jaguar Role For Martin Brundle
According to reports in the British press, Martin Brundle will definitely not be replacing ousted Jaguar Racing boss Niki Lauda.

Brundle, the 43-year-old ex-F1 driver and keen commentating pundit, was wooed by the Milton-Keynes outfit but failed to agree terms with exorbitant salary demands.

The former Jordan, McLaren and Tyrrell pilot - born in Kings Lynn - was, according to the press reports, asking for a little more than £2 million a year.

He is in Birmingham this week for the Autosport International Show, addressing the audience on Friday. 'Formula One is very strong,' he insisted as reports of a waning spectacle persist.

Some worry that declining spectator figures and collapsing teams represent a crisis at the pinnacle of motorsports. Brundle, ever the realist, is unconvinced.

'It is still the biggest sport in the world after the Olympics and the World Cup,' he adds. 'If you look at what the teams have got to spend, it is still far more than they had three years ago - as are the TV figures.'

Jaguar Racing is yet to announce a team principal replacement for the fired Austrian, Niki Lauda.

Martin Brundle will continue to head up the ITV commentary box in 2003 whilst managing the affairs of Scottish McLaren ace, David Coulthard.

When aged just thirteen, the Briton started his career in grasstrack racing before moving up to Hot Rods and the British Touring Car Championship.

He started a Grand Prix assault with Tirell after finishing runner-up to Ayrton Senna in British Formula Three with Eddie Jordan.

In 1997, Martin joined Murray Walker in the British commentary box after a career spent racing with Benetton, Brabham, McLaren and Jordan.

Come '98, he led the Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota, but retired. A year later, he was on pole for the same race and contested the '01 edition with Bentley.







Wilson: Welcome To Minardi, Jos
Justin Wilson has continued to welcome new Minardi team-mate Jos Verstappen to the Anglo-Italian fold.

The 24-year-old is adamant that, as an F1 rookie, he and Paul Stoddart's outfit will benefit greatly from the experience brought to Minardi from the former Benetton, Simtek and Arrows driver.

'I think he's a good choice because he will be a good benchmark for me,' Wilson told Autosport.

'It is definitely good for the team to have someone with his experience, because over the last few years they have only had young drivers, like myself, who have to learn as they go along.

'Jos can bring the experience of his previous years in Formula One, and that can only be a good thing.'

Wilson recently met 30-year-old Verstappen in London as he was elevated to the Minardi race-drive.

'I met him in the lobby at Heathrow Hilton,' explains the Yorkshire-born racer. 'He said 'hello' and 'well done', and seems like a really nice guy.

'So I look forward to meeting him again now he is my team-mate.'







TF103 Sparks Positive First Impressions
Olivier Panis spent his week at the wheel of Toyota Racing's all-new TF103 charger at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France.

The 36-year-old Frenchman clocked up 80 laps of initial development on the new car as the Cologne-based outfit returned to work in the days after Wednesday's official launch in Le Castellet.

'The weather has been mixed all week, and the track was rarely completely dry,' the Lyon-born charger explained. 'I did get some laps in the dry today and my initial impressions of the TF103 are positive.

'But it is still too early to make any real assessment - next week's test in Barcelona will definitely give us a clearer understanding.

'It has been a busy week, and I would like to send my thanks to everyone in the Cologne factory, who worked so hard over Christmas and New Year to get the car ready in time for this test.'

His 2003 teammate, newly-crowned CART Champion Cristiano da Matta, took charge of the TF102B interim car from Tuesday, completing 83 laps over three full days of on-track activity.

In variable weather conditions, including heavy rain and an often icy track surface, the Brazilian 'learned a little bit more about the TF102B car' fitted with new engine and gearbox.

But the 29-year-old charger is already looking forward to his first stint at the wheel of the all-new challenger, scheduled for Paul Ricard in two weeks' time.

'We struggled a lot with the weather this week with a lot of heavy rain, but it meant I did some runs in both wet and dry conditions,' Da Matta explained.

'We did not get as many laps done as I would have liked, but the TF103 launch on Wednesday was very good and the new car looks great. I really cannot wait to drive it.'

The Japanese-owned, German-based outfit now moves to the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona for a three-day session next week from 14 - 16 January.

Olivier Panis will again be behind the wheel of the TF103 for its first joint test session, whilst Cristiano da Matta will continue development work in the TF102B.







Bridgestone Buoyed By First '03 Test
Hisao Suganuma is encouraged by the first track outing of the year with all-new Bridgestone boots.

The technical manager, overseeing the progress of Scuderia Ferrari test pilots Luca Badoer and Luciano Burti, is reporting 'extremely valuable data' from the Jerez de la Frontera track.

'They both provided some good feedback and this first test of the year has been valuable in particular with reference to our wet tires.'

This year, Bridgestone and Michelin will make do with new wet tire regulations restricting them to the supply of just one treaded compound for rainy Grand Prix conditions.

With rain forced upon them, then, Ferrari and Bridgestone wracked up plenty of wet development miles, the data to be 'sent back to our Technical Centre in Japan.'

Hisao continues: 'We are happy that the different specification tires performed as expected and we now have a clearer indication of our direction for future development.'

Whilst the conditions forced plenty of wet running, a final day of intensive dry tire testing was also achieved on Friday.

Regarding the rain affected test Mr Suganuma continued: 'We took a total of fifteen specifications of tire to Jerez but we only had the opportunity to test our high priority tires because of the weather conditions.

'However, the fact that we had three days of rain giving us natural wet track conditions is always more useful than simulated scenarios.'

The next big test of the season will see Bridgestone return to the Circuit de Catalunya, in Barcelona, in ten day's time.

Several Bridgestone-shod cars are expected to be running at the Spanish track including those of Ferrari and British American Racing, complete with new 005 charger.

During these dates, Sauber - another Bridgestone-clad outfit - are expected to be conducting tests at Valencia.







Ferrari Fastest As Renault Head Home
Ferrari testing cohorts Luca Badoer and Luciano Burti continued to dominate the timesheets at the Jerez de la Frontera test session on Friday.

Led by Italian developer Badoer, the scarlet chums clocked up a mammoth combined 192 laps of the high-speed Spanish coastal circuit, once again sharing three F2002 contenders.

Under chilly, but improved, conditions of up to 9°C, sun and wind predominated proceedings as the Ferrari boys completed a dry tire development program and electronics testing initiated on Tuesday.

Burti, the Brazilian, did the majority of laps (124) despite trailing the ultimate pace by nearly two seconds.

With Williams packing up and heading home for Grove last night, Renault were left at the bottom of the four-strong order with Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso.

Combining efforts to produce 84 laps, Trulli was the quickest in the hybrid car comprising all-new R23 chassis but 2002 aerodynamic parts, even though he couldn't complete a significant amount of laps.

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director, said: 'Today we had a more productive day with better weather conditions. Jarno was able to complete a full test program in the hybrid car.

'He conducted some tire work for Michelin in the morning and in the afternoon he did some brake evaluation.'

21-year-old Alonso, the 2002 development tester returning to the racing wheel this season, finished the suspension development program in the older R202 and 'completed most of the important works that we wanted to do with this car.'

Gascoyne adds: 'Overall we had a mixed results with this session, finishing on a better note. We will continue testing at the Barcelona circuit next week.'

1 Luca Badoer I Ferrari 68 1:18.486
2 Luciano Burti BR Ferrari 124 1:20.482
3 Jarno Trulli I Renault 40 1:21.320
4 Fernando Alonso E Renault 44 1:22.995







Montagny Eyes Role As Stepping-Stone
Franck Montagny aims to build on his new appointment as Renault tester to one day grace the Grand Prix grid.

The Frenchman joins an impressive new development lineup at Enstone including ex-Toyota F1 racer, Allan McNish.

But Montagny's arena will be the ten days of in-season testing granted to Renault for 2003 under the new Heathrow Agreement.

'In one sense, what's happening at the moment is an acknowledgement of all the work I have done in the last few years, but it's just a stepping stone,' he insists.

'My ambition is still to compete in Grands Prix, and to become an F1 race driver one day. I'm not planning to stop before then!'

Montagny's early career is punctuated with titles. 'Franky' started racing in 1992, winning the French Junior kart championship before going on to become the French 'National 1' champion.

In 1994, he moved into car racing, winning the French Formula Campus title, and entered the La Filière Elf series.

After a year in the French Formula Renault Championship, in which he finished fourth in 1995, Montagny's career was temporarily halted by a serious accident in 1996 that kept him in hospital for five weeks.

He returned to full time racing in 1997, finishing fourth in the French Formula Three Championship and was able to keep up with the British championship contenders at the European round at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.

Runner-up in the French Formula Three championship followed, including his debut at Le Mans in a Courage-Porsche and eventual graduation to International F3000, where he finished third in Hungary and 'rookie of the year'.

A sparkling early career behind him, then, Montagny calls his new adventure with Renault a 'dream come true'.

And he feels a little pressure to perform: 'I'm still managing to sleep,' he smiles. 'I do feel some pressure, but it's positive pressure, the kind that drivers you forward and makes you work well.

'I don't want to disappoint anybody. Before the first test, I will speak to the Team at length, make a point of getting to know everybody and integrate myself into the Renault structure.

'That's essential.'







New Addition To Jordan Engineer Team
Silverstone-based outfit Jordan has welcomed a new addition to the race engineering team.

Gerry Hughes, arriving from Jaguar Racing, will engineer the third car at 2003 Grands Prix as well as overseeing engineering for the team's test programme.

The 33-year-old joins from Jaguar, where he was Eddie Irvine's race engineer for two years, prior to which he worked in touring cars with Williams from 1996 - 1999 and Prodrive in 2000.

Gary Anderson, Director of Race and Test Engineering, said: 'I'm very happy to have Gerry on board. I've worked with him before and he has a wealth of experience which will strengthen our race engineering team.'

Rob Smedley continues in his role as Giancarlo Fisichella's race engineer, while Dominic Harlow moves from the T-car to engineer the other, yet announced, race driver.

James Key, who was Takuma Sato's race engineer in 2002, has moved to Jordan's Aerodynamics department, where his responsibilities will include correlating between circuit aerodynamic data and wind tunnel aerodynamic data.

Anderson added: 'James did a great job in the race engineers group however he wanted to move on to focus on aerodynamics.

'We always want to find ways of exploiting the talent we have at Jordan in the best way possible.'







Wilson Dreamed Only Of Formula One
Just prior to his signing as a paying Minardi pilot, Justin Wilson was offered a decent salary and winning seat in American Champcars.

But the 24-year-old dreamed only of Formula One. 'All Justin cares about is making it in his sport, he's not dreaming of a private jet and Monaco residence,' said his manager, Jonathan Palmer.

'He's prepared to pay 80 per cent of his earnings to pay off his investors in order to make the most of this opportunity.'

Palmer and Wilson, united when the latter won the former's junior racing category in 1998, have embarked on a novel scheme to finance the Englishman's F1 opportunity.

Just as a race-horse is sold to a syndicate of investors, so too has been Justin Wilson. 'It's nigh-on impossible to raise the budget through sponsorship, so we decided to do something creative and original,' explained Palmer.

It may be a risk, and Dad Keith may have put his petrol station on the line to act as collateral, but Wilson found no option than to snare a racing dream in Formula One.

In just over seven weeks, he'll join an exclusive group including 19 other world-class racing drivers, and start his first Grand Prix at Albert Park.

'I've always been a believer in wanting to race against the best people,' says the Minardi rookie, Justin.

'If you're racing in a lower formula against people that aren't particularly rated, then no one cares. If you're in with a group of guys believed to be the best, then people can see if you're good or not.'

Wilson's talents will be lined up against the rated 30-year-old, Jos Verstappen, from The Netherlands.

Justin said: 'It will keep us both improving. He won't want to be outqualified by a newcomer and I want to test myself against someone of his experience."

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