Antonio Pizzonia

Antonio Pizzonia's quest for redemption has been one of the most fascinating aspects of the past year. When he was dropped by Jaguar after the 2003 British GP it seemed unlikely that he would ever sit in an F1 car again, never mind race one. But a chance to test for Williams saw him back in the fold late last season, which led to a proper deal for this season

Antonio Pizzonia

When Ralf Schumacher was injured at Indianapolis it was inevitable that Marc Gene was called up for Magny-Cours, but after a mediocre outing at Silverstone it became obvious that Williams had to look elsewhere. Pizzonia, rather than a third party such as Jacques Villeneuve, got the job.

He scored modest points with seventh in Germany and Hungary, but Spa started badly when he crashed in the brief wet practice session on Saturday. That didn't go down too well, especially as the car had just been fitted with one of only two brand new engine covers. It put him on the back foot for qualifying, but his luck changed in the race. From 14th on the grid he benefited greatly from the first lap chaos, and moved straight up to eighth.

"I think I passed two cars at the start,' he said afterwards, "but at the first corner I nearly stopped, and I think I lost two places there. But there were a lot of crashes as well. It was quite confusing.

"Then at the top of the hill I saw a lot of smoke. At first I didn't see any cars, but then I saw the cars spinning. I think I was lucky on that one as well, because I went to the left side of the track, which was the correct choice, and there was a gap big enough for me to pass.

"In the first stint we had a small problem with the tyres, they blistered a little bit, so the stint was quite slow. Then for the second stint, it was much better, the pace was pretty good, and we had no problems at all really."

Antonio even led a lap by pitting late, and then found himself behind the Trulli/Montoya battle. He was only too pleased to take advantage when the pair fell over each other at the chicane.

"I was catching them up quite quickly. They were fighting for position, and Trulli was trying to defend a little bit. I was quite surprised that they crashed, because I don't think that's a place to overtake, really, unless you are already side by side on the corner before. The way I saw it, Trulli was ahead of him."

For a few laps Antonio enjoyed running ahead of his senior team-mate. The fun ended when he suffered a gearbox problem during the second safety car period, and was forced pull off the circuit at the top of Eau Rouge.

"It was good. Juan was pushing, I was responding, and it was good fun. The gearbox problem came suddenly, it wasn't getting worse or anything like that. Just suddenly I had no gears. Then when I went round the first corner, I could go to second and third again, but when I went to fourth there was nothing there any more. I tried to go back to third and second, and there was nothing. I tried all the gears.

"I think a podium was nearly guaranteed, but that's motor racing. If you have a technical problem, there's nothing you can do."

Antonio has been surviving pretty much on a race by race basis, and the fact that Schumacher's return has been postponed once more comes as a real bonus.

"It's been like that since Hockenheim. They always say this might be your last one, so make sure you do a good job."

Williams has shown good recent form at Monza, although it remains to be seen whether that is repeated this year. But does Pizzonia have a future in F1? Frank Williams remains a fan, but has favoured Button and Webber for 2005. He's not very high on anyone else's list at the moment, although a podium at Spa would have helped. If this weekend really is his last chance, he has to make the most of it.

"Monza is probably going to be the biggest shot for the team in the last four or five races," he says. "So we'll see."

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