Cash incentive and talent make Klien a safe bet for Jaguar

New faces for 2004: Financially troubled team have high expectations after giving talented Austrian driver his big chance in Formula One

The semantics were never going to matter. His name is spelt K-l-i-e-n and is therefore pronounced "clean", but the moment Jaguar announced that the Austrian Formula Three racer Christian Klien was in the frame to partner Mark Webber in 2004, he was always going to be called "Calvin".

The 20-year-old Klien has a tough act to follow as Webber's partner. The Australian was one of the stars in 2003, and his team-mates - Antonio Pizzonia originally, and later Justin Wilson - both fared badly in an environment in which Jaguar appeared able to prepare two cars to the same specification, but not to set them up as effectively as each other at the races. Both Pizzonia and Wilson would probably agree with that.

Webber has welcomed his new partner, and says he was impressed by his performance in Valencia which cemented the drive for the Austrian. Cynics might expect Webber to heap praise upon Klien. After all, the best team-mate any driver can have is one who is slower than him. Webber is astute enough to know that and even to acknowledge it, but sounds convincing when he presents a denial.

"No mate, I really do think he's good," he says. "He took to the car in the slow and medium-speed corners faster than either Antonio Pizzonia or Justin Wilson. He understands the car."

The Jaguar team principal, Tony Purnell, is also a confirmed Klien fan, and it was his ultimate decision to employ him. Again, the cynics might see six million reasons for this since the cash-strapped team will pocket $6m (£3.4m) from Red Bull for taking Klien. But Purnell also argues his case well.

"You stand by your decisions, don't you," Purnell says, "and I'm prepared to stand by mine. I rate Christian and I think he's going to surprise people. He is very mature, and you have to remind yourself that he is only 20.

"When he first tested for us at Valencia, I went out to watch him on the track. People don't do that very much these days. There's a point where you can see most of the track, and I was quite surprised. He seemed to be driving very calmly and leaving lots of room on the exit to each corner. Frankly, he looked pretty slow and I was beginning to wonder, but then I saw the lap times he was doing, and I was very surprised. They were genuinely quick."

Support outside the Jaguar team comes from the English racer Jenson Button, who appreciates exactly what Klien will face in Melbourne in March having gone through the jump from Formula Three straight to Formula One himself with BMW-Williams in 2000. "From what I've seen when we were testing together," the BAR-Honda driver says, "he looks pretty good. I think he's going to do OK."

Klien's arrival in Formula One is great news for Red Bull. The energy drink manufacturer has been desperate to get one of its drivers into the sport, having sponsored the Swiss Sauber team for almost 10 years. That relationship almost folded in 2001 when the team principal, Peter Sauber, opted to take Kimi Raikkonen instead of the Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz's protégé Enrique Bernoldi. Bernoldi eventually went to the now defunct Arrows team with Red Bull support, but undoubtedly Sauber made the right choice.

After a number of years of supporting drivers that were going nowhere, the Red Bull programme is now much more focussed and the right strategic decisions are at last being made. One example was the decision to place Klien with the Mercedes-engined Mucke team for the European Formula Three Championship in 2003, in which he took pole positions and won races, including the highly prestigious Zandvoort Masters race in Holland.

Another example of the Red Bull programme concerns the other new face likely to pop up in Formula One before long, the former world karting champion Vitantonio Liuzzi, another Red Bull driver. Last season he moved straight from Formula Three to Formula 3000 in only his second season in car racing and impressed everyone with his speed and maturity. But for a malfunctioning wheel gun during his pit stop in the Formula 3000 round in Hungary, he would have won easily.

If there is a surprise about Klien being signed for Jaguar, it is that Red Bull elected to place him there before doing something to help Liuzzi into the big league. The Jordan race engineer, Rob Smedley, is adamant that the Italian has similar talent to Renault's 2003 sensation, Fernando Alonso. Liuzzi is decidedly un-Latin in character and approach and reminds seasoned observers of Nigel Mansell's bulldog spirit and Alex Zanardi's charisma.

Given Red Bull's success with Klien, which is a clear endorsement of the wisdom of their new strategy of demanding results from sponsored drivers, it will be no surprise to see victories in Formula 3000, probably for Arden International Motorsport, propelling Liuzzi into Formula One as well.

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