Stand-in Pizzonia shows lofty aspirations as he passes his Williams test in style

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The Independent Online

Sweltering conditions, a tricky, technical circuit and the challenge of Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya: Antonio Pizzonia relished it all in Hockenheim yesterday. The 24-year-old Brazilian, sacked last year by Jaguar, grabbed with both hands the lifeline thrown him by BMW-Williams, for whom he is the official test driver, by bouncing his way into fifth place during practice.

Sweltering conditions, a tricky, technical circuit and the challenge of Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya: Antonio Pizzonia relished it all in Hockenheim yesterday. The 24-year-old Brazilian, sacked last year by Jaguar, grabbed with both hands the lifeline thrown him by BMW-Williams, for whom he is the official test driver, by bouncing his way into fifth place during practice.

The previous day Montoya had said: "If Antonio asks, I will help him," but Pizzonia, driving in the injured Ralf Schumacher's place, never needed to ask Williams' other driver for anything. In fact, when he set what was initially the second fastest time, he put him under pressure. The Colombian slipped off the road at one stage, before he eventually shaved Pizzonia's time by three-tenths of a second.

In the end, Michael Schumacher just kept his Ferrari ahead of Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes and Montoya, as Britain's Jenson Button pushed through to fourth place in his BAR-Honda before suffering an engine failure and losing 10 grid places. But Pizzonia left his mark with lap times that varied by only three hundredths of a second during one five-lap stint, and he may yet catapult himself on to the 2005 driver market.

There is no love lost between him his former employers, and he has accused Jaguar of favouring his old team-mate Mark Webber and only being able to run one car competitively when he was there.

"I used to get some parts one or two races late, some of which I knew about but most of which I didn't," he said. In return, Jaguar's management recalled how Pizzonia crashed a roadgoing Jaguar S Type at 150 mph at the track in Barcelona while carrying a journalist and a photographer, and how he repeatedly told his team, on first acquaintance with their racing car, that is was "the worst f***ing car I have ever driven."

Relations are not all sweetness and light between Jordan and Williams, either, or Eddie Jordan and his driver Nick Heidfeld. While Pizzonia had his moment in the sun, showing what he could do and putting into the shade the efforts in the past two races of his fellow Williams test driver Marc Gene, Heidfeld had to run round at the back in his Jordan Ford knowing that but for financial differences between Williams and Jordan he could have been driving Williams No 4 instead, and rescuing his own career.

It is fashionable to overlook the little German because he is one of the paddock's more restrained characters. But as Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta in their multi-million dollar Toyotas will testify, he's pushed his Jordan into places it has had no right to be on several occasions this season. Raikkonen would no doubt concede that Heidfeld was a tough partner in their days together at Sauber Petronas in 2001.

Heidfeld could only grit his teeth as Pizzonia celebrated his promising start. "We had two productive sessions today," the Brazilian reported. "As it was the first time I've driven at Hockenheim in a Formula One car, I spent most of the time getting to know the secrets of the track, and how the FW26 behaves around this circuit. It's good to be racing again."

Team principal, Eddie Jordan, meanwhile, seemed a trifle bemused by his own statement earlier in the week, when he had said, once all prospects of a deal had dissipated: "It's not Jordan's fault that Williams is losing both its drivers this year and has two test drivers that it does not want to use in races." Later he added: "Jordan is not a kindergarten for anyone." But that is precisely what it is, and Jordan was busy only last week telling the German media that his team have been particularly active in bringing on young talent. There is, however, no cost implication where hyperbole is concerned in this business.

"I'm disappointed," was all Heidfeld would say for the record, while a Williams source admitted that a figure of as much as $3m was mooted by Jordan as recompense for Heidfeld's services if Williams decided to run him until Ralf Schumacher returns, and was adamant that: "Eddie's financial demands were foolish."

German Grand Prix (Hockenheim) Opening practice sessions (for tomorrow's race): First session: 1 *A Davidson (GB) BAR-Honda 1min 15.756sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:15.864; 3 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:16.318; 4 *R Zonta (Br) Toyota 1:16.340; 5 G Fisichella (It) Sauber-Petronas 1:16.451; 6 O Panis (Fr) Toyota 1:16.484; 7 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:16.493; 8 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda 1:16.544; 9 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 1:16.795; 10 A Pizzonia (Br) Williams-BMW 1:16.845; 11 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:16.916; 12 C da Matta (Br) Toyota 1:17.111; 13 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:17.142; 14 F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas 1:17.361; 15 J Trulli (It) Renault 1:17.487; 16 T Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda 1:17.526; 17 *B Wirdheim (Swe) Jaguar 1:17.714; 18 N Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:18.257; 19 *T Glock (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:18.768; 20 C Klien (Aut) Jaguar 1:18.810; 21 G Bruni (It) Minardi-Cosworth 1:19.088; 22 *B Leinders (Bel) Minardi-Cosworth 1:19.270; 23 Z Baumgartner (Hun) Minardi-Cosworth 1:19.959; 24 G Pantano (It) Jordan-Ford 1:20.029; 25 M Webber (Aus) Jaguar no time recorded. Second session: 1 M Schumacher 1:15.001; 2 Raikkonen 1:15.045; 3 Montoya 1:15.167; 4 Button 1:15.379; 5 Pizzonia 1:15.470; 6 *Davidson 1:15.576; 7 Sato 1:15.657; 8 Alonso 1:15.677; 9 Barrichello 1:15.738; 10 *Zonta 1:16.200; 11 Coulthard 1:16.265; 12 *Wirdheim 1:16.342; 13 Webber 1:16.514; 14 Trulli 1:16.660; 15 Klien 1:16.854; 16 Massa 1:16.865; 17 Fisichella 1:17.026; 18 Da Matta 1:17.300; 19 Panis 1:17.419; 20 *Glock 1:17.724; 21 Pantano 1:17.869; 22 Baumgartner 1:18.098; 23 *Leinders 1:18.224; 24 Heidfeld 1:18.243; 25 Bruni 1:18.309.

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