Cost-cutting forces Jaguar to gamble on young drivers

Derick Allsop
Wednesday 22 January 2003 01:00

Jaguar embark on a critical Formula One world championship with a back-to-basics car and two for-the-future drivers. The R4 was launched, in a manner of speaking, yesterday when Jaguar dispensed with the long-established, lavish presentation in favour of a matter-of-fact introduction via the internet. It is a sign of the financially challenged times.

Jaguar have cut costs drastically and laid off 75 people. Also gone are the team principal, Niki Lauda, and their two drivers, Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa, since the R3 was unveiled. The new drivers are the Australian, Mark Webber who has had one year in Formula One with Minardi and the Brazilian, Antonio Pizzonia, who makes his debut at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 9 March.

Jaguar are conscious they cannot afford another dire championship. They have inched forward from ninth to seventh in the three seasons since they bought out Stewart Racing, a rate of progress that has scarcely impressed some in the hierarchy at the parent company, Ford.

For all the words of professed faith emanating from Detroit, Jaguar might have difficulty explaining away a hiding at the hands of Jordan, now a Ford Cosworth customer team or worse still, Minardi who will also use the engines this year.

Jaguar, the factory team, will have the benefit of the latest specification engine from Cosworth which is said to be lighter and more powerful than its predecessor. The car is designed to be uncomplicated, but potentially more reliable and productive.

David Pitchforth, Jaguar's managing director, said: "The team learnt a lot of lessons from last season's R3. We opted for a conventional, low-risk and robust design for the R4.'' That cautious approach appears to be at odds with the team's policy on drivers – a switch from experience to youth, although expenditure was patently a factor.

Irvine's salary alone accounted for £6m of Jaguar's annual budget. Even so, Webber and Pizzonia represent a bold choice by Jaguar, especially as they need results sooner rather than later. Webber at least has a season's Formula One racing and knowledge to draw on, but 22-year-old Pizzonia has to learn about the team, the circuits and everything else involved in competing at this level.

Pizzonia, who hails from the Amazon rain forests, but is paradoxically the son of a wealthy industrialist, had to fly regularly to Sao Paulo to nurture his early interest in racing. At the age of 16 he came to England and began his international career in earnest. He eclipsed Alain Prost's record of victories on the European and French Formula Renault scene and, at 18, became the youngest winner of the Formula Vauxhall Junior title.

Pizzonia maintained his spectacular rise in racing with triumph in the 2000 British Formula Three Championship and since then has honed his skills in the International Formula 3000 series, as well as testing for the Williams Formula One team. Pizzonia said: "Testing with Williams has been really important for me. They're a big team, always trying things and I drove about 15,000 kilometres for them. That has given me very good experience. I am sure I am ready for Formula One. I don't feel under any pressure.''

His fitness and preparation programme includes an unlikely element: Boxing. Pizzonia explained: "I like boxing and I box with my trainer as part of my training routine. We have sessions wherever we are – at our hotel, anywhere. We take the gloves and pads with us.

"Boxing is good for my fitness. It's good for the upper body muscles and makes me stronger. And it also helps make me angry. You need that when you are racing."

The rest have been warned.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments