Justin Wilson's elevation to Formula One driver, having achieved so much in the junior-formulae, may have taken longer than anticipated but the 24-year-old's long term belief in his abilities, coupled with the determination of both his manager Jonathan Palmer and KL Minardi team principal Paul Stoddart, have finally secured the 2001 International F3000 Champion a seat on the F1 grid come March 2003 and the Australian Grand Prix.
Following the press conference this morning confirming his place amongst the F1 elite, Justin enthused on his official website, www.justinwilson.co.uk, about his forthcoming Minardi ride and the ambition that has driven him throughout his distinguished career.
"The announcement today about my F1 drive with the KL Minardi team has still really to sink in," Wilson explained. "It's an amazing feeling to know that you're going to be a Formula One driver but I'm sure the full impact won't hit me until I start testing the car on a regular basis or line up on the grid in Melbourne next year. I have to be honest and say I've been overwhelmed by the response to the news. The press conference today was packed with TV crews and journalists and overall the response has been extremely positive."
Having raced against and beaten many of motorsports rising stars Justin is now set to race amongst the elite and the prospect is a tantalising one for Britain's third 2003 Grand Prix star. "I'm excited about being in F1 and naturally I'm hoping we'll have a good season. I'm not intimidated to be on the same grid as Schumacher or Montoya because I firmly believe I deserve my seat in F1. I was ready for the challenge this time last year having won the International F3000 Championship and tested an F1 car, it wasn't to be then but my time is now!
I'm certainly going to make the most of it and I can't wait to get into the Minardi and start testing. The plan at present is to test in January with the 2002 car and then at the end of the month or beginning of February the PS03 will be ready and we can get to work on the 2003 car. Before and during the on-track activity I'll be concentrating on my personal fitness, ensuring I am at the required level for F1. I'm not too far off it just now but I'm keen to work with my personal trainer and be amongst the fittest drivers on the grid."
Many observers doubted Justin would ever enjoy the opportunity to race a Formula One car but the Northampton based driver has never lost sight of his long-held ambition. "I've been told on several occasions throughout my career that I should forget F1 and concentrate on a career in America or in sportscars but I'm a stubborn character and my goal coming up through the ranks was always to be a Formula One driver. I've experienced many ups and downs with my lowest point probably being this year when I had a seat fitting with Minardi as a potential replacement for Alex Yoong for the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix. As we know I couldn't fit into the car and I went back to my hotel room in Italy feeling like the world had ended. The positive side to the story was Paul Stoddart's response to the situation and faith in my ability. It's all worked out for the best now.
I experienced highs and lows at the end of last season as well with winning the F3000 championship and testing for the Jordan F1 team. The test with them made me even hungrier for a chance to race in F1 but following my second outing with the team everything went very quiet. I'm pleased to say that 2002 hasn't been a lost period and the confirmation of my drive with Minardi today has rounded off the year quite nicely."
2002 has been a busy year for Justin. Towards the end of the season he had the opportunity to test a ChampCar in America with CART Champions Newman-Haas Racing. With options to race on both sides of the Atlantic Justin was conscious of his career path and the best way forward for him. "I have no doubt that CART will be a strong championship next year but for me Formula One was my dream and when the opportunity arose I really felt I had to take it. I've been talking about it for so long I really felt I had to put my money where my mouth was! I don't want to be in a situation where I look back and think 'if only' and the chance to race in F1 is so unique. I know 2003 will entail a lot of hard work but it's my chance and I have to grab it with both hands.
I'm sure it would have been fun to race in America in CART and I was very close to doing a deal, our negotiations were quite a long way down the road. I am extremely grateful to Newman-Haas Racing for the testing opportunity in October, it was a fantastic experience and they are a great team. At the end of the day though we feel that F1 is the better path for me at this stage of my career and with the opportunity arising I had to take it."
The KL Minardi team are set to receive a power-boost in 2003 courtesy of Cosworth. Justin's goals for the season are both realistic and achievable as the Faenza based squad seek to build on their ninth place finish in the Constructors Championship. "My goal is to score points on a more regular basis for the team," explained Wilson.
"Mark Webber ran really well last season and I'm hoping that with an improved packaged, points scoring opportunities come along more often. The new scoring system should help! The dream would be to go for podiums but we have to be realistic about our situation and go for what is achievable. We'll all work hard, I'm sure of that but my feet are firmly on the ground when it comes to making predictions. Paul is working hard on securing a budget to allow the team to develop the car as the season progresses. Traditionally Minardi have always been stronger at the start of the year as other teams suffer with poor reliability. Some teams will be carrying over their cars from 2002 and therefore we can't guarantee to be in the same points paying position in Melbourne."
Team budgets are tight in the current economical climate and Justin has brought some funds to the team but he is far from being a labelled 'pay-driver'. Justin pointed out, "My career to date speaks for itself and to think any other way would be quite naïve I feel! As I mentioned earlier this was an opportunity worth taking and it wouldn't have been available to me if Paul Stoddart didn't believe in my talent. It's been very encouraging having his support. It's always difficult raising money but we have our budget in place and still have some investment opportunities for people to be involved in. We'll announce those on the website in the near future."
The task of learning some new circuits poses no threat to Wilson, as he proved in his maiden season in International F3000. With 42 cars attempting to qualify for each race in 1999, qualifying was crucial as grid numbers were limited and Justin was new to eight out of the ten circuits on the schedule. He proved his credentials by qualifying for every single race, one of only seven drivers out of a highly rated field to achieve this feat.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge in 2003. Five of the circuits are completely new to me, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, America and Japan. I don't see it as a stumbling block and I've proved in the past that I'm a quick learner."
Justin has finally achieved his F1 goal and his path to the top via Formula Palmer Audi, International F3000 and the Telefonica World Series by Nissan, has been a fruitful one. "I wouldn't change anything I've done in my career," he enthused. "I'm happy with the way things have worked out. Formula Palmer Audi was my best option back in 1998, it was cheaper than F3 and ultimately it got me into F3000. This season was effectively a holding year as I sought to land an F1 ride. That said it was a valuable year, you always learn from racing and although at times it didn't always go to plan my season progressed well and the team really gelled towards the end."
2003 is set to be the busiest year of Justin's life and the Australian Grand Prix will be a proud moment for everyone involved in helping the Sheffield-born racer realise his life-long ambition.
"I'm going to take it all as it comes," concluded Wilson. "I've had great support throughout my career and since the announcement this morning I've had lots of positive messages from a wide range of people including many drivers. I look forward to starting my F1 career in earnest next month and racing for the KL Minardi team during the 2003 season."