Wilson's move from Minardi to Jaguar justifies Palmer's faith

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The Independent Online

Justin Wilson, used to running at the back of grand prix races this season with Minardi-Cosworth, is set to make a major leap forward after signing to race for Jaguar for the remainder of the season.

Last week his father, Keith, nearly let the leaping cat out of the bag while speaking of his feelings watching his son hit the big time earlier in the year with Minardi.

"It's not nice being last and it'll be good to get out of that situation," he said. "But people keep reminding me that there's only 20 people in the world sat at that table. And Justin is one of them."

Unfortunately for Antonio Pizzonia, the Brazilian driver, he no longer is. After some controversy over his position with Jaguar back in May seemed to have blown over, Pizzonia was told that last weekend's British Grand Prix was his last chance to redeem his career. Jaguar decided he had not done enough, and the financial settlements were finally agreed early yesterday so that Wilson could be announced as his replacement for the five remaining grands prix. Pizzonia has been offered the role of test and development driver at Jaguar.

Wilson, 24, made a secret visit to Jaguar's Milton Keynes factory last week, to make sure that his 6ft 4in frame would fit in the R4 car. Back in 2002, his opportunity to race in Hungary for Minardi was stymied when he was too tall to fit the cockpit. All was well, which is hardly surprising as Mark Webber, Jaguar's other Formula One driver, is 6ft 2in.

David Pitchforth, the managing director of Jaguar Racing, said: "We are delighted to have Justin join us for the remainder of the 2003 season in what is a richly deserved opportunity.

"In the Jaguar R4, we clearly have a competitive car and one that has helped Mark Webber secure 12 points, thereby taking the team to sixth place in the constructors' championship. With five races left on the calendar, it is critical that we are maximising our potential with two race cars."

Wilson, the first graduate from the Formula Palmer Audi series created by his manager, Jonathan Palmer, is the only Briton to have won the Formula 3000 Championship (in 2001), beating Webber in the process.

This year Palmer initiated the Invest in Wilson scheme where fans could buy shares in the driver. It succeeded brilliantly, raising the £1.2m he needed to secure his Minardi seat.

Palmer said: "I'm really thrilled. Talks I was having with Jaguar about 2004 were low-key, but then the chance of taking over straight away came up only a few days ago. We signed the contracts this morning."

Wilson, on whom Jaguar have an option for next season, said: "This is fantastic news and a simply brilliant opportunity for me. Jaguar have been really impressive this year and made a big step forward over the winter. As Mark Webber has proven, this is a team that can score world championship points and I'm determined to do just that."

Meanwhile, Wilson's place at Minardi has been taken by the 25 year-old Danish driver Nicolas Kiesa, who won the Grand Prix-supporting Formula 3000 race at Monaco in May.

A ban on testing until September came into force yesterday, but Minardi's owner, Paul Stoddart, believes a loophole will enable Kiesa to test for two days at Mugello prior to the German Grand Prix next week, "because it makes sense to bend the spirit of the rules in the interests of safety."

Kiesa will bring much-needed finance to the beleaguered team, while Ford-owned Jaguar are likely to pick up Stoddart's Ford engine rebuild costs as compensation to Minardi for the loss of Wilson.