Rookies ready for Australian GP

Rookies ready for Australian GP

In just a few days time engines will rev up for the start of the 2003 Formula One season and this year there are four new faces on the grid. Ralph Firman, Justin Wilson, Cristiano da Matta and Antonio Pizzonia, two Britons and two Brazilians, will...

In just a few days time engines will rev up for the start of the 2003 Formula One season and this year there are four new faces on the grid. Ralph Firman, Justin Wilson, Cristiano da Matta and Antonio Pizzonia, two Britons and two Brazilians, will join the grid next Sunday for their debut race and all are eager to get going.

Ralph Firman.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
Ralph Firman, born in Norfolk, UK, joins Jordan after being last year's Formula Nippon champion. The twenty seven year-old was F3 champion in 1996 and spent six years in Japan before his F1 chance finally arrived. Firman has been testing the EJ13 at the Silverstone circuit recently and is optimistic about his first race.

"I'm really looking forward to the start of the season now," he said. "Last week I had two- and-a-half days testing in the dry and two-and-a-half in the wet. The first few days were getting used to the car and doing practice race distances, and I also had to do some engine mapping work for Cosworth too. I'm happy with how I've progressed so far. On the Friday, every time I went out I was lapping 0.7 seconds quicker than the time before and if things go like that in Australia then I'll have a good race."

"All the way through testing we've been very encouraged by the reliability of the car and we think we've got a very good chance of getting some excellent results in the first three races."

Justin Wilson.
Photo by Dave Dyer.
Fellow Brit Justin Wilson was the first sixteen year old to win a British motor race in 1994, in Formula Vauxhall, and was successful in the series in the nineties. He won the Formula Palmer Audi championship in 1998 and was F3000 champion in 2001. Wilson debuts with Minardi this year after the team found a way round his six foot three height by building a special chassis.

"It was a useful afternoon, as any seat time I can get in prior to leaving for Australia is great," said the twenty four year old after Minardi's final pre-season test last week. "As this car hadn't run before, we spent time working on chassis set-up and software assessment. I have to admit I was conscious of being a little bit careful, as the car will be packed up for the trip to Australia within the next 24 hours."

"This was also the first time I had driven at Imola in a Formula One car, and it's certainly nicer than in a Formula 3000 car. At the higher speeds, the circuit seems to open up and starts to 'flow'. I'm quite excited and really looking forward now to my first Grand Prix."

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Toyota Racing.
Cristiano da Matta is probably the most well known of this year's rookies, being the 2002 CART champion. The twenty nine year old Brazilian competed in F3 in his home country and in Britain, as well as F3000, before moving to US racing with Indy Lights in 1997. The next year he won the championship and progressed to CART in 1999, where he climbed the ranks to win the title.

"I completed over 2000kms with the new car since early January and I feel really positive about it," da Matta said after testing with Toyota. "The team gave me the chance to experience several different tracks, I learnt as much as possible from everything, but I think you never feel completely ready anyway. Now I am really looking forward to the race one week away and to get into it for real!"

Youngest rookie at twenty two, Antonio Pizzonia was Formula Vauxhall Junior and Formula Renault Sport champion in the late nineties and British F3 champion in 2000. In 2001 he competed in F3000 and last year he was official Williams F1 test driver. He attracted the attention of Jaguar Racing and tested for the team last year, after which the Brazilian was signed to a race seat for 2003. Pizonia broke the lap record at Valencia recently and is looking forward to the challenge of competition.

Antonio Pizzonia.
Photo by Dave Dyer.
"I'm sure its going to be very exciting," he said of the first race at Melbourne. "But when you have the helmet on you have to forget everything and concentrate on driving the car. It's going to be special, going to be different, but at the same time I don't want it to be different. I want it to be a normal race."

"Formula One is a new challenge, totally different and fantastic. But I've been working really hard to be here and now I just have to do my job and try to prove what I can do."

Although not rookies, a few other drivers return to F1 in a race seat this season after an absence: former Arrows man Jos Verstappen will team up with Wilson at Minardi, ex-Arrows and Jordan driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen returns to Sauber and Renault test driver, previously Minardi racer, Fernando Alonso takes up a full time race seat with Renault.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Antonio Pizzonia , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , Justin Wilson , Fernando Alonso , Ralph Firman , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Sauber , Williams , Toyota Racing , Minardi , Jaguar Racing , Jordan