Although the announcement from Jaguar that both Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa were being replaced for 2003 was not a big surprise, some question the wisdom of two less experienced drivers taking over. However, given the results the team...
Although the announcement from Jaguar that both Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa were being replaced for 2003 was not a big surprise, some question the wisdom of two less experienced drivers taking over. However, given the results the team achieved with two seasoned campaigners, new young blood will perhaps give Jaguar the boost it desperately needs.
Irvine gave Jaguar all of its eight points in 2002 but the Irishman had been talking about leaving since early in the season after the dismal performance of the R3. De la Rosa frequently mentioned he had a contract for 2003 but how much do contracts actually mean in Formula One these days?
Webber started in karts in the early nineties and was successful in Formula Ford in Australia and Britain. In 1997 he moved to Formula 3 where his performance attracted the attention of the Mercedes AMG sportscar team. Webber was paired with then reigning GT champion Bernd Schneider -- who now races in the German Touring Car series, twice being champion -- and the pair finished second in the FIA GT series.
In 1999 Webber stayed with Mercedes AMG but the GT championship was cancelled due to lack of entries. The team concentrated its efforts on the Le Mans series and the 24hrs of Le Mans, which proved to be unfortunate. In practice at Le Mans, Webber's car went airborne and somersaulted several times before coming land, thankfully with the Australian in one piece. The same happened again, not only to Webber but to his team mate Peter Dumbreck and Mercedes hastily withdrew from the competition.
Webber decided to leave sportscars and parted company with Mercedes, eventually signing with Paul Stoddart's European Formula Racing (EFR) team for the 2000 F3000 championship. Stoddart and Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw did a deal that saw EFR become the Arrows F3000 junior team and Webber became the F1 Team's test driver. He was third over all in the 2000 and second in 2001 with Supernova. It was in 2001 that he took up the role of test driver for the Benetton F1 team.
In the hope of securing an F1 race for the future, Webber concentrated on testing and was duly signed up by Stoddart for Minardi in 2002. Scoring the team's first points in three years in his debut race this year immediately promoted Webber to a driver of interest.
Pizzonia took the British F3 title in his first season in 2000 and after a year in International F3000, finishing sixth, the 22-year-old moved to the Williams F1 team as test driver. Testing for Williams has seen the Brazilian be on comparable terms with more experienced tester Marc Gene and Pizzonia is notably aggressive.
So, neither Webber nor Pizzonia are strangers to a race track even if their combined F1 experience has been mostly confined to testing. Webber put in some fine performances for Minardi this season and although Pizzonia has yet to compete in F1, Jaguar boss Niki Lauda is enthusiastic.
"In Antonio we have a very gifted raw racer who will undoubtedly inject a new lease of life into Formula One," Lauda said. "His speed and racing instinct are what attracted us to him and I have little doubt in his ability to shake-up the establishment in a big way."
He was equally optimistic about Webber, saying the Australian has solid experience and can now have the chance to show what he can do. Providing Jaguar give him a decent car that is. The poor performance of the R3 this year was not exactly encouraging but there were improvements towards the end of the season. For 2003, new drivers, new rule changes and a new optimism in the Jaguar camp might just see the Leaping Cat make its presence felt.