Race for the final seats

Now that Minardi has signed Justin Wilson in a three year deal and Takuma Sato has joined BAR as reserve driver, who will fill the two remaining race seats for 2003 is a hotly debated topic. As usual, claims and counter-claims, confirmations and denials are running rife -- for every rumour that surfaces, another comes along negating it.

Christijan Albers.
Photo by DaimlerChrysler.
Paul Stoddart played the game at the press conference when Minardi announced Wilson: yes, he is in talks with a couple of other drivers who could well be of the nationality suspected but would not be led further. Nothing that we didn't already know then; Dutchmen Jos Verstappen and Christijan Albers have both been negotiating with Minardi.

"Nothing has been signed yet but everyone had a positive feeling after the meeting," said Verstappen's manager after talks with Stoddart. "Both parties have some homework to do and hopefully that will bring some new things. No new meeting has been planned but one can be arranged at short notice."

Albers' manager was also recently quoted as saying they were close to a deal and rumours have gone so far as to suggest the DTM driver has in fact signed already. Albers has a slight advantage in that he is familiar with the team from testing and driving the Minardi two-seater.

Verstappen's advantage is his experience, although Minardi has a reputation for taking on rookies that go on to bigger and better things, which fits Albers better. However, in the case of both drivers, finance is the major stake in the game -- whomever has the most will be the winner.

The same applies to Jordan. Eddie Jordan made no secret of the fact that Sato's future with the team depended on him bringing in more backing -- something that obviously failed to happen with Sato's departure this week. That event saw the immediate resurfacing of speculation that Eddie Irvine was once again in negotiations with Jordan.

Enrique Bernoldi.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
However, as standard, the team denied anything was resolved: "We have not agreed anything with any driver regarding the number two seat at Jordan," a spokesman told the BBC. "There are a number of conversations taking place but nothing has been finalised."

Felipe Massa had a brief period of being linked with Jordan but a more likely contender is Enrique Bernoldi. The Brazilian has a hefty personal sponsorship from Red Bull, the energy drink manufacturer, which is just what Jordan would be looking for. But after a season with the enthusiastic but accident prone Sato, perhaps Jordan is looking for some experience this time round.

Irvine is an old hand at the F1 game and is admirably able to wrestle the best out of a reluctant car. Bernoldi may have the sponsorship but a rather dismal couple of seasons with Arrows did not give him a chance to prove his worth and his performances met with mixed reactions.

Minardi and Jordan are expected to make announcements regarding drivers in the near future: two will get a nice Christmas present and the rest will have to go drown their sorrows in egg-nogg.