F1

Stoddart hopes for test driver turnaround

Stoddart hopes for test driver turnaround

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart believes the new regulation concerning test drivers will be changed, which could give Justin Wilson a chance to remain in Formula One. Stoddart recently signed Gianmaria Bruni and Zsolt Baumgartner as race drivers for ...

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart believes the new regulation concerning test drivers will be changed, which could give Justin Wilson a chance to remain in Formula One. Stoddart recently signed Gianmaria Bruni and Zsolt Baumgartner as race drivers for 2004, but if not for financial concerns he would have taken Wilson back. It now looks as if the former Minardi driver's F1 future is bleak but Stoddart thinks there is hope.

Paul Stoddart.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
With the Heathrow testing agreement being thrown out, the teams outside the top four in the standings can run a third driver in Friday practices at race weekends. However, that driver must not have competed in more than six Grands Prix in the previous two years, which has effectively blocked experienced drivers from taking a test role if a race seat is unavailable.

Jaguar, with whom Wilson raced in the final five GPs of the 2003 season, would have liked to keep Justin as test driver but the rule disallows that. Stoddart thinks it will be discarded: "I'm convinced that there will be an agreement to cancel the experienced drivers testing regulation," he said. "That will leave the door open for Justin to come back to Formula One in a testing role. He did a great job this year and I am sure he will be welcomed back with open arms."

Only Jordan has yet to confirm a driver line up for 2004. Jos Verstappen, Nick Heidfeld, Allan McNish, Ralph Firman and Wilson are all vying for the seats but the unlucky ones won't even have the option of looking for a test role with the current regulation. F1 stalwart Heinz-Harald Frentzen has already cut his losses and will compete in German Touring cars next year.

Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Renault, the top four teams this season, already have their test drivers and the rest of the grid have little in the way of spare finances to take on a tester for non-race weekend sessions. Sauber has already said its test driver, Neel Jani, will only run at some race weekends as the team doesn't have the budget for every GP.

Narain Karthikeyan, who tried out for Minardi at Vallelunga recently, is speculated to be in line for a test role with the team. The test driver regulation, while not good news for the old-hands, gives rise to opportunity for up-and-coming youngsters.

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