Grapevine: Jordan Give Added Twist to Rumour Mill

One man's loss in Formula One is always another man's gain. Heinz-Harald Frentzen's abrupt departure from the Jordan team has blown a hole in the driver market for 2002 just when things seemed to be quietening down among the leading teams.

Grapevine: Jordan Give Added Twist to Rumour Mill

One man's loss in Formula One is always another man's gain. Heinz-Harald Frentzen's abrupt departure from the Jordan team has blown a hole in the driver market for 2002 just when things seemed to be quietening down among the leading teams.

Suddenly a coveted seat has become available at a high- profile team, backed by a major car manufacturer, that only two years ago was seriously challenging Ferrari and McLaren. Brazilian Ricardo Zonta, Jordan's test driver, will step into the gap this weekend at the German Grand Prix and will probably hold his place for the rest of the season, but he has no shortage of long-term rivals.

The driver merry-go-round may start spinning after Hockenheim as Formula One heads for a three-week summer break with plenty of time for theories and rumours to develop. Benetton can expect much of the attention to fall on their drivers Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella.

Button, the rookie of the year last season when he scored points for Williams, has had a disappointing - some would say dismal - season and has struggled with an under-performing car. The rumour mill has linked the 21-year-old Briton to most teams in the paddock and Button might be the kind of personality to appeal to Jordan's major tobacco sponsor Benson and Hedges. Fisichella drove for Jordan in 1997 before a courtroom tussle between that team and Benetton.

Trulli Option

Benetton will become Renault next season and the team have yet to confirm the line-up for 2002, with Flavio Briatore holding an option on Jordan's Italian driver Jarno Trulli. That has led to talk, in the media anyway, of a possible switch.

Young Spaniard Fernando Alonso, earning plaudits at Minardi, also has a contract with Renault while Australian Mark Webber is lurking in the background as Benetton's official test driver and F3000 title contender. At the sharp end of the grid, Ferrari and Williams have confirmed their drivers while McLaren are expected to stick with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

Rarity

Frentzen's dismissal, with six races remaining and on the eve of his home Grand Prix, was a rarity for a sport where lawyers and sponsors often have the loudest voices. Not since 1991, when Ferrari dispensed with the services of former World Champion Alain Prost after he likened their car to a truck, has a driver of such stature been cast aside.

There have been others - Stewart dismissed Denmark's Jan Magnussen in 1998 due to poor performances while Benetton hurriedly cast out Brazilian Roberto Moreno in 1991 to make way for Michael Schumacher. Only this season, Argentine Gaston Mazzacane was replaced at Prost by Brazilian Luciano Burti. But Frentzen, now 34, was in a different class.

A winner of three races with Williams and Jordan, he was also runner-up in the Championship in 1997 and third in 1999 after his career slumped in 1998. In his first season at Eddie Jordan's team in 1999, the Irish entrepreneur described the Moenchengladbach undertaker's son as the revelation of the season.

"Like Lazarus, he's back from the dead," said Jordan, who also worked with Frentzen in F3000. The major question for the German now is whether his career in Formula One can be resurrected once again.

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