Feature: Minardi, Jordan are F1's Fame Academy

Nicolas Kiesa's arrival in Formula One is unlikely to be earth-shattering but at least it gives the two smallest teams some sort of bragging rights.

Feature: Minardi, Jordan are F1's Fame Academy

Nicolas Kiesa's arrival in Formula One is unlikely to be earth-shattering but at least it gives the two smallest teams some sort of bragging rights.

The Dane, who makes his debut for Minardi in Sunday's German Grand Prix as a replacement for Briton Justin Wilson, joins Ferrari's five times World Champion Michael Schumacher on a remarkable list.

Minardi and Jordan, both scraping along in a series dominated by manufacturers, have now provided Grand Prix debuts for half of the 20 drivers who will be on the starting grid at Hockenheim on Sunday.

That includes both the Schumacher brothers, Michael and Ralf, as well as Ferrari's Brazilian Rubens Barrichello - all introduced by Eddie Jordan.

Renault's Italian driver Jarno Trulli and Spanish teammate Fernando Alonso started out as Minardi men along with the Jaguar line-up of Australian Mark Webber and Wilson. So too did Jordan's Italian Giancarlo Fisichella.

Briton Ralph Firman, a rookie at Jordan, completes the list with Kiesa which looks even more impressive if the top two teams' test drivers are included.

Ferrari's Italian tester Luca Badoer and Williams' Spanish reserve driver Marc Gene were both found by Minardi.

"The statistics speak for themselves," says Minardi boss Paul Stoddart. "The two teams that are struggling the most have between us put half the drivers on the grid. It's a pretty impressive statistic, no matter how you look at it."

Rocket Science

The small teams' ability to act as talent scouts is hardly a revelation. At the bottom of the paddock pecking order, their survival depends on shrewd wheeler-dealing and seizing opportunities.

While Ferrari have the pick of the field, taking fully-fledged stars, Minardi and Jordan have to make ends meet. Look at Michael Schumacher - hurriedly put into the Jordan at Spa in 1991 after Belgian Bertrand Gachot was jailed for assaulting a London cab driver.

That particular deal was sweetened by a timely payment from Mercedes that kept the bailiffs at bay, although it did not prevent Benetton snapping up the young German immediately afterwards.

Or take Wilson, the promising Formula 3000 champion who had to sell shares in himself to pay Stoddart for the drive.

Stoddart wanted Wilson, who was told by Jackie Stewart years ago that he was too tall to make the grade and would be better off in sportscars, but he also knew he had to have drivers who would bring money in.

"Minardi serve a very important function in enabling talented young drivers to actually have a first stepping stone to prove their abilities and move on if they justify it," said Wilson's manager Jonathan Palmer.

"I don't think Mark Webber would have got into Formula One had Minardi not been around. And Justin too. Paul has been in Formula 3000 and seen the drivers and level of competition and understood the significance of winning in a category like that.

"It's not rocket science to think 'Let's take the bloke who's been the most dominant winner in Formula 3000 history' - the chances are that it's not going to be a duff decision."

Dirty Job

Stoddart - who brought in Alonso, Webber, Wilson and now Kiesa - said Formula One would have been far poorer without his team and Jordan.

"I suppose if there were no Minardis or Jordans around, then it would be a case of it's a dirty job but someone's got to do it," said the Australian. "But it's easier for them (the big teams) to see the guys if they are right under their nose.

"They can spot the good, the bad and the ugly and choose the ones they want to move on to bigger and better things.

"You have to ask yourself which drivers would make it if there weren't the small teams to act as an academy and bring them through, who would be the names that would actually ever get seen?

"The answer is probably a favoured few. But I don't think it would be as easy as it is to just see a talent running around for lap after lap in front of you."

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