Interview: Scheckter Junior Aims to Follow Father

If Jaguar's new test driver makes the most of his chances next season, Formula One could soon witness a Scheckter racing a Villeneuve again.

Interview: Scheckter Junior Aims to Follow Father

If Jaguar's new test driver makes the most of his chances next season, Formula One could soon witness a Scheckter racing a Villeneuve again.

South African Jody Scheckter was a World Champion in 1979, with the late Canadian Gilles Villeneuve as his Ferrari teammate, before Scheckter retired in 1980.

Now Scheckter's 20-year-old son Tomas is hoping to make the Formula One breakthrough and graduate to the grid in 2002 - where he will find 1997 Champion Jacques Villeneuve, son of the flamboyant Gilles.

On Tuesday, at the southern Spanish circuit of Jerez, Tomas gets down to business with the Ford-owned team in the first serious test of what he expects to be a crucial season as Jaguar's test driver and stand-in.

He knows he has time on his side but not much in a sport where drivers are getting younger and younger.

"My dad says 'Well, you've got two years, three years to get in there otherwise that's it,'" said Scheckter in an interview at the Jaguar Racing factory.

"For me, I need to do it - I put pressure on myself that I need to do it - next year.

"I need to get in there next year (2002) because there's not a lot of other junior formulas that I can do and I don't want to get stuck in the testing role," he said.

Rapid Rise

While not quite matching the meteoric rise of Jenson Button - the only slightly older Briton who had an impressive debut season at Williams this year - Scheckter has made rapid progress in the last 12 months.

Last January, father and son were still discussing career options after Tomas won the Formula Opel title and the familar surname began to arouse interest.

He joined Stewart Racing's Formula Three team and impressed - finishing runner-up in the championship - and then did well in a test drive with Jaguar in August while he was still only 19 years old.

"I think it's a good opportunity that I'm doing testing and I get to learn how the team works, I get to go to races," Scheckter said of the Jaguar move.

"But obviously I would have loved to race this year.

"I want it, I want Formula One. Already at the end of this year after I did some 3000 races I was really anxious to race in Formula One next year."

By the time Scheckter did his Jaguar test, Brazilian Luciano Burti had already clamped his hands on the seat left vacant by retiring Briton Johnny Herbert as northern Irishman Eddie Irvine's team mate.

Scheckter said he could have been released from his Jaguar contract had he been offered a drive by another team but, despite some options, nothing materialised.

He expects to do some racing next season, either in European Formula 3000 or Japan's Formula Nippon, but is determined to stand out at Jaguar just as Burti did.

"I don't want to be someone they stick in to go up and down the straight," he said of his test role.

"I want to know why we are going up and down the straight, what are we testing, why are we testing it? I want to be involved with Eddie and Luciano.

"I don't want to become a dummy. I want to become a driver who knows everything that is going on."

Famous Father

Father Jody, who went straight from Formula Three into Formula One as a raw talent, is helping his son but Tomas said he was not pulling any strings.

"He gets involved but he's not like some of the fathers that start screaming. He leaves me to do my job. If I've got problems I speak to him.

"He speaks to me and then I do my own thing.

"A lot of people think he helps me a lot with the driving which is not true at all.

"He really likes to help me with the data and the technology. He always said that when he was driving and people from the outside commented on his driving he always hated it," added the South African.

Scheckter - born in Monaco a month before his father retired - said the surname could also be a disadvantage, with people sometimes assuming the son of a former Champion must have his experience too.

In fact, he grew up with his mother in South Africa while his father was running a business in America.

"We begged my mother to get me a go-kart. She said 'no, no, no' but eventually she got us the go-kart and we started doing well. My dad was completely against it," he said.

"He only watched my first race when I was 16. After that, he said 'Well I'll give you one year in Europe and we'll see how you do. If you're any good I'll help you but if you're no good you'll go to university or something.'"

Scheckter won his second race. Jody is still helping and Tomas's education continues on the track.

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