F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
January 11, 2003
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
'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,'
'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
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
'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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
'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
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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