Franchitti opens the door to Formula 1

Dario Franchitti has denied that a Jaguar Formula 1 contract is already on the table for 2001 - but the Champ Car ace still gave his clearest indication yet that he will be behind the wheel of one of the team's Grand Prix cars next year.

Franchitti opens the door to Formula 1

Franchitti jetted into Britain this week to take part in a two-day test with Jaguar Racing at Silverstone. He and the team have played down the significance of the outing, describing it as merely a chance for Franchitti to sample a modern F1 car, but sources within Jaguar say the test is little more than a formality and that he will definitely make the switch from Champ Cars to F1 for 2001.

Taking time out after a second morning of running, the Scot added fuel to mounting speculation, saying: "I want to do Formula 1. If everything goes well here, and if Jaguar likes the job I'm doing, then it might be a case of saying 'Yeah, let's do something.'"

However, he refused to be drawn on whether the next step will be to finalise a contract with the Milton Keynes-based squad.

"You can draw whatever conclusions you want on why I'm here," he said. "I asked Jackie (Stewart, Jaguar Racing director) if I could test the car some time and he said yes. If things go well in the test, then there's a possibility of something else, but it's nice to do it anyway.

"Who knows what happens next - it's something we'll discuss later. My focus is on the test today and on the Champ Car race at Michigan this weekend."

Franchitti's stance on Formula 1 has always been that unless the car was fully competitive, he would not take up a drive. Jaguar has yet to finish on a podium during 2000 and has suffered woeful reliability during the races, but the 27-year-old said he believed the ingredients were there to make the team front-runners.

"They're a team with great potential in terms of their resources and the people they have," he said. "It all points to things getting better. Having been involved in a winning programme for the last couple of years, I think I can spot the signs."

When quizzed on why he had not chosen a longer break between Champ Car races to test the Jaguar - he flew to the UK directly after Sunday's Toronto street race and flies out this evening (Wednesday) - Franchitti said: "It's a case of everybody getting organised, and it's a pretty complicated thing when you're dealing with sponsors. My team boss Barry Green wants me to drive his car again next year and he was quite within his rights not to let me do this, but he's been great."

Having never sampled a Formula 1 car with grooved tyres or raced at Silverstone since 1996 - prior to recent track modifications - Franchitti has adopted a methodical approach to the testing and says he is unconcerned about overall lap times.

Yesterday (Tuesday), he finished the day 10th quickest out of 11 cars, one second behind Jaguar tester Luciano Burti, and in this morning's session, he was ninth and last - 1.7s off Burti's pace.

"My objective isn't lap times," he said. "I just want to keep learning - building up my speed in the fast stuff, learning the braking, learning the slow stuff."

Franchitti picked out the Jaguar's carbon-fibre brakes as the biggest single difference between it and his usual Team Green Reynard-Honda, but denied that a modern F1 car feels unpredicatable to drive.

"What you ask it to do, it does," he said. "But I'm still learning and trying different things. In the slow corners, the grooved tyres do grip less - they're very sensitive in the slow stuff - but in the fast corners, the downforce takes over and you don't really feel a difference."

The Scot says he has no further plans to test again for the team in the immediate future. That stance is backed-up by a Jaguar Racing insider, who said: "He'll go away now, get back into Champ Car mode and finish the season over there, but don't be surprised to see him out again well before the winter F1 test ban."

For Dario Franchitti Q&A click here.

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