DRIVERS: RICARDO ZONTA

Name: Ricardo Zonta
Nationality: Brazil
Date of birth: March 23, 1976 - Curitiba, Brazil

The accident that befell Ricardo Zonta in his homeland during practice for the 1999 Grand Prix at Interlagos derailed what had up until then seemed like a career destined for great things.

In the F1 paddock late the previous year, people had mentioned the name Zonta the way they would come to mention Juan Pablo Montoya's, with the reverence due to the man most likely to succeed.

Hailing from the same town as Mauricio Gugelmin, and fueled by his own father's interest in dirt track racing, Zonta followed his compatriot into South American karting before moving on as national champion into Formula Chevrolet car racing. A spell in the SudAm F3 series came for 1995, when half a dozen victories wrapped up another title and set him on the F3000 road with Draco in Europe. In his first season he won twice, at Mugello and Estoril, and his promise was all too clear. David Sears stepped in to sign him for his Super Nova outfit, and in 1997 he won the European championship after a fabulous fight with the Colombian, Montoya.

He tested for Jordan and signed to drive sportscars for Mercedes-Benz. Ron Dennis signed him on as a McLaren protege.

By 1999 Zonta was ready for F1 and Dennis placed him with British American Racing alongside former world champion Jacques Villeneuve. But that accident at Interlagos fragmented his season and he did not return until Canada in June. Initially it seemed that some of the spark had gone, but gradually he began to pull things back together. As the 2000 season started he was once again threatening Villeneuve's pace, and scored his first championship point with sixth in the opening race in Melbourne. But not long afterwards came another hefty accident when the front suspension collapsed during a test at Silverstone and his car vaulted the safety fences at Stowe.

Zonta escaped with nothing worse than a cut finger. Later in the year it became clear that Zonta was going to be replaced in 2001 by Olivier Panis. Zonta decided to become the Jordan team test driver in 2001 and in the midseason he was called in when Frentzen was injured after a high-speed accident at Monte Carlo. Later in the year Jordan decided to replace Frentzen but Zonta was passed over for the job (which went to Jean Alesi) and it was clear that the Brazilian was wasting his time with Jordan and in 2002 he took the decision to race in the Telefonica World Series. He won the title and as a result was named Toyota's test driver in January 2003.

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