Atlas F1 Magazine: The Weekly Grapevine, Brand New Vintage
by Dieter Rencken, South Africa
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer


Are Formula One's 20 grid slots really filled? A week ago chances were pretty strong that Giorgio Pantano would fill Jordan's second seat, thus grabbing 2004's last chance saloon.

On Friday the Italian's signing was confirmed, but since then rumours have surfaced that the second Minardi seat may well fall vacant, what with the Hungarian government cutting, nay, slicing, its financial support of Zsolt Baumgartner's by close to 95%.

Jos VerstappenThe F1 aspirant, whose family put up its Budapest Renault franchise as security, was promised around $4m by the state, subject to his raising an equal amount from commercial sources. This, he thought, had been done via Mol - the Hungarian (state-owned) oil company - who believed he was headed for Jordan, for whom he tested and started two grands prix last year. When he signed for Paul Stoddart's team, Mol first threatened to up and off; then did.

But any illusions the likeable lad, who is fluent in four languages, had of flying to Melbourne in three weeks' time on the back of his state funding were shattered by on-off statements that the government would contribute no more than a paltry $300,000 - since confirmed.

It seems public sentiment, made aware of the 'enormous' commitment - and the original amount is just that when measured against the annual GDP ($5,000 per capita) of the former communist territory, which has enormous backlogs in all social areas - by cruel domestic media reports rallied against the concept of a motor sportsman receiving more in state funding for accommodation in the only team not to score points in 2003 than the entire Hungarian 2004 Olympic team will receive in grants.

So what chance Jos Verstappen back at Minardi, complete with Trust and Muermanns funding? Sure, derogatory comments about the team were allegedly muttered around Christmas time by the CEO of Trust, Michel Perridon, but really, if Verstappen and his loyal backers seriously wish to be on the grid come March 7, their only option is to pray that the tiny trickle of funds into Baumgartner's sponsorship account from generous countrymen proves insufficient to keep him in the seat.

Paul Stoddart, in the last week, confirmed that Baumgartner's first payment had been received, but what price a truce between the Australian and Trust? Regardless of this, though, the situation should never have arisen in the first place: at the Sauber launch in mid-January a Hungarian journalist alluded to the breakdown between Mol and Baumgartner. The driver went public with his plight, and, in the process, the state funding came to light. Had he rather concentrated on finding a replacement for Mol, he may well have retained the $4m.

On that track, it is rather difficult to make heads or tails of Eddie Jordan's tirade against Verstappen's manager, Huub Rothengatter. The former F1 driver - he started 25 grands prix between 1984 and 1986 - has been the subject of vicious accusations, which include allegations of 'intransigence'.

'The hard work of these two loyal sponsors (Trust and Muermanns) was undone by the intransigence of Huub Rothengatter, manager of Jos Verstappen, who at all times insisted on taking an exorbitant commission on sponsorship introduced to the team or an outrageous wage,' went Jordan's statement.

So, okay, maybe the Dutchman was a bit greedy (this IS, after all is said and done, Formula One), but is this not possibly a case of the boiling kettle calling the steaming pot black? In mid-January, after Verstappen's team terminated negotiations with Jordan when the team failed to meet a deadline imposed by Rothengatter AND Perridon, Jordan verbally promised, according to the latter, that a deal would be signed. Did Rothengatter suddenly up his commission ante when a real deal was in the air?

More likely is the suggestion that EJ suddenly increased his price when he realised Pantano was moving into the frame with lower space demands for equal money. Nastier rumours have it that the team principal changed the $ sign in the original contract to £, ballooning the amount by 45% in one uneasy swoop…

So, is Jordan's present tactic to appease Trust and Muermanns and hope they stick their names on the yellow car without Verstappen, who will battle to extricate himself from the management contract he entered into with Rothengatter over a decade ago; one which served the streetwise driver with a massive fan base very well during some tough times? Here's betting it is. Or, maybe it is all a matter of EJ justifying a broken verbal contract.


Just why is Ferrari refusing to put Michael Schumacher in its F2004 against the competition? The last time it did so was in 2000, when it ran everywhere the opposition was not. Why show your hand too early, went Ferrari's thinking.

Despite the German's win first time out in Melbourne, the Drivers' Championship went to Japan, and the Constructors' down to the wire to Malaysia.

Raikkonen's McLaren catches fire during testingBut, that year was, remember, Maranello's second season on Bridgestone (and McLaren's third) and thus it had comparative tyre compatibility data available; crucially, it was also a season of low performances from the balance of the majors: Williams (switching to BMW power, plus breaking in Jenson Button) and Benetton (in the process of being sold to Renault after a period of questionable management).

This season, though, is a horse of a different colour. Williams has broken lap records everywhere (except at Fiorano or Mugello), and Renault has proven to be the most consistently fast outfit out there. With indications that the Fab Four has mutated into the Fast Five over the winter - BAR-Honda, which has set the pace on all three Iberian circuits after switching to Michelin, seems a major threat to the establishment - surely Ferrari should show its hand, particularly given that its only comparative tyre data now stems from Sauber, Jordan and Minardi.

In the present Formula One climate showing your hand early is risky; not showing it at all is even more so.

That may explain why rumours are surfacing that McLaren is 'sandbagging' - the strategy of feathering certain track portions whilst running the balance flat, then stringing best sector times together to calculate potential.

More likely, though, is that the Woking squad has, having honed MP4-19 to a competitive level (it was fearsomely fast until mid-January, remember), substituted the original with its announced successor, the MP4-19B in recent testing. After all, fast cars do not get slower by over a second without reason, and who could actually tell the difference between the two models?

With McLaren labelling every single part with the model designation as part of its 'lifing' system, it would be most interesting to ascertain exactly how many parts bear the legend 'MP4-19B' on Kimi Raikkonen's latest test vehicle…

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Volume 10, Issue 7
February 18th 2004


The Back End
by Peter Farkas

CART and Sold
by Caroline Reid

The Readers Digest
by Karl Thoroddsen and Gabor Vizi

The Paint Job
by Bruce Thomson

2004 Countdown: Facts & Stats
by Marcel Borsboom & Marcel Schot


The F1 Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken

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