Feature: Race Hots Up for F1's Last Few Slots

What price a Formula One drive?

Feature: Race Hots Up for F1's Last Few Slots

What price a Formula One drive?

With no more than three vacant places remaining on the starting grid, the coming weeks will decide whether they go to those drivers bringing the most money or those with the most potential.

As ever, it all comes down to cash.

Jordan have yet to confirm their two drivers, although they hope one of them will be Germany's Nick Heidfeld, and are waiting to finalise the team's budget before deciding who to sign. If the various sponsorship deals that are in the pipeline come to fruition, then the Silverstone-based team say they will go for talent.

"It's my duty to talk to all the drivers available," said team owner Eddie Jordan on Thursday. "I've identified a number who could do a good job for Jordan and I have spoken to most of them now. I intend Jordan to have the best possible driver pairing to get results for 2004.

"When our sponsorship is finalised I will then take the decision on who our drivers will be."

Until then Heidfeld, who lacks the financial clout that some lesser-rated drivers can muster, will be on tenterhooks. Team sources said at least six drivers were under consideration - Ralph Firman, Allan McNish and Jos Verstappen known to be among them - and suggested that sponsorship negotiations were looking more promising than last year.

McNish Hopeful

Firman and McNish can hope to be favoured by cigarette brand Benson and Hedges, who have historically sought British drivers, but their continued sponsorship of the team has yet to be confirmed. McNish, a former Toyota driver and Renault tester, said on Thursday that he was talking to Jordan and "things are progressing."

"I've visited the factory and seen the car and the wind tunnel and I'm right up to speed with where the team is. There's been so much speculation recently over this seat with Jordan but that's only to be expected with only a few places left up for grabs," he said.

"However, with the new testing regulations it puts even more emphasis on an experienced driver."

Verstappen, "Jos the Boss" to his many fans in the Netherlands, has one of the biggest cash pots of those still looking for a drive now that Austrian Christian Klien has been signed by Jaguar.

He took it to Minardi this year but was less than impressed with a pointless season spent chugging around among the backmarkers. The internet was buzzing with reports of a meeting between Jordan and Verstappen's backers Trust in the Netherlands on Wednesday.

Minardi, who announced the signing of Italian rookie Gianmaria Bruni last week, need money and said last week that they would be keen to have Verstappen back. But since then they have announced that Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner is close to doing a deal.

"His performance last year, when with very little notice he replaced (Ralph) Firman (at Jordan), impressed me greatly," Stoddart said on Wednesday. "We're all impatient to start the 2004 season with Zsolt."

Bottom Line

Baumgartner may indeed have caught the Australian's eye but his retirement in Hungary and 11th place at Monza, out of 12 cars running at the finish, probably had less to do with the decision than his portfolio of sponsors.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, announced as a Minardi shareholder in Canada this year when the team were in danger of failing, is also promoter of the Hungarian Grand Prix. There are others who detect a ruse to flush out Verstappen and force him to make a decision.

Whatever, the bottom line is money. At the poorer end of the paddock, driver talent can do little to overcome commercial considerations. Stoddart admitted as much last week when he said that Briton Justin Wilson, who has lost his drive at Jaguar after making his debut with Minardi this year, would otherwise have been re-hired.

"If I were in the position where the drive was going to go to someone who didn't have a full budget, he'd be on top of my list," he said.

shares
comments
Briatore: Webber an Option for Renault in 2005
Previous article

Briatore: Webber an Option for Renault in 2005

Next article

Stoddart: Verstappen Still Has a Chance

Stoddart: Verstappen Still Has a Chance
Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return Plus

Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return

He has more starts without a podium than anyone else in Formula 1 world championship history, but Nico Hulkenberg is back for one more shot with Haas. After spending three years on the sidelines, the revitalised German is aiming to prove to his new team what the F1 grid has been missing

The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected Plus

The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected

The late Mauro Forghieri played a key role in Ferrari’s mid-1960s turnaround, says STUART CODLING, and his pretty, intricate 1512 was among the most evocative cars of the 1.5-litre era. But a victim of priorities as Formula 1 was deemed less lucrative than success in sportscars, its true potential was never seen in period

Formula 1
Jan 28, 2023
Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss Plus

Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss

OPINION: Fred Vasseur has spent only a few weeks as team principal for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but is already intent on taking the Scuderia back to the very top. And despite it being arguably the most demanding job in motorsport, the Frenchman is relishing the challenge

Formula 1
Jan 27, 2023
The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023 Plus

The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023

Changes to the regulations for season two of Formula 1's ground-effects era aim to smooth out last year’s troubles and shut down loopholes. But what areas have been targeted, and what impact will this have?

Formula 1
Jan 26, 2023
Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history? Plus

Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history?

Who are the quickest drivers in Formula 1 history? LUKE SMITH asked a jury of experienced and international panel of experts and F1 insiders. Some of them have worked closely with F1’s fastest-ever drivers – so who better to vote on our all-time top 50? We’re talking all-out speed here rather than size of trophy cabinet, so the results may surprise you…

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2023
One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1 Plus

One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1

OPINION: During what is traditionally a very quiet time of year in the Formula 1 news cycle, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been generating headlines. He’s been commenting on massive topics in a championship that loves them, but also addressing necessary smaller changes too. Here we suggest a further refinement that would be a big boon to fans

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
How can McLaren keep hold of Norris? Plus

How can McLaren keep hold of Norris?

Lando Norris is no longer the young cheeky-chappy at McLaren; he’s now the established ace. And F1's big guns will come calling if the team can’t give him a competitive car. Here's what the team needs to do to retain its prize asset

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
What difference did F1's fastest pitstops of 2022 make? Plus

What difference did F1's fastest pitstops of 2022 make?

While a quick pitstop can make all the difference to the outcome of a Formula 1 race, most team managers say consistency is more important than pure speed. MATT KEW analyses the fastest pitstops from last season to see which ones – if any – made a genuine impact

Formula 1
Jan 23, 2023