The haunted house of Orange
JANUARY 4, 2002
The Mole quite likes Holland. The people are always very friendly and these days they speak English better than the English do. Amsterdam may be full of drunken and drugged hippies but the average Dutchman is a jolly fellow with a decent sense of humour. In the course of the last century the Dutch and their neighbours the Germans have had a most interesting relationship and when the Dutch wish to annoy the Germans they ask them if they can have their bicycles back. The Mole's Departure of Cultural Abuse says that this comes from the final days of the German Occupation of Holland in 1945 when the invaders decided it was time to clear out and used whatever means possible to go home to Germany. KLM was not offering many flights to Berlin at the time and the railways had all been blown up by gung-ho Americans flying Thunderbolts. The fuel stations were all closed down and so hundreds of Germans decided to borrow the bicycles of Holland and pedalled for the border.
Somehow or other those bicycles were never returned and that fact has annoyed the Germans ever since.
This curious tale of everyday European folk may not seem to be very relevant in the modern world of Formula 1 but there are signs that the Dutch will soon be asking the Germans whether Jos Verstappen can have his Formula 1 car back.
Jos may not be the most successful racing driver in F1 history but in Holland he is very popular. The Jos Verstappen Fan Club is the biggest in F1. And there is no question that Verstappen is the most successful Formula 1 driver in Dutch history. Gijs Van Lennep might have won the Le Mans 24 Hours twice and Arie Luyendyk may have won two Indianapolis 500s but "Jos the Boss" is the biggest racing star in Holland.
Count Carel Godin de Beaufort might have had his own Dutch F1 team (Ecurie Maarsbergen) but de Beaufort's career (and life) was cut short by a tree at the Nurburgring in 1964 and since then a gentle flow of passing Dutchmen did little of note until Verstappen threw himself into the fray in 1994 as Michael Schumacher's Benetton team mate. His moments of glory came thick and fast. In Brazil he was sent flying through the air (upside-down) by Eddie Irvine, who was later banned for several races for his role in the crash.
In Germany the Benetton team set Jos on fire in the pits but in Hungary a fortnight later he finished third (despite singed eyebrows) and there was dancing on the canals of his home country.
As a reward for all his efforts Jos was then fired by Benetton and has since made more comebacks that Frank Sinatra. He drifted to Simtek and from there to Arrows, Tyrrell, Stewart, Honda F1 and finally back to Arrows again at the start of 2000. This time he seemed to have found his home. Orange is Holland's national colour and the team from Leafield has been adopted by the Dutch. There have been two seasons of frustration but Jos has always given everything and last summer Tom Walkinshaw signed him for 2002. Or at least that is what the team announced.
With Cosworth engines, the Dutch said, Jos might finally be able to show his true value.
Since Prost Grand Prix ran into difficulties in the autumn, however, the name of Heinz-Harald Frentzen has popped up again and again in rumours related to Arrows. At first it was thought that Heinz would join Jos but a few weeks ago Walkinshaw named Enrique Bernoldi as his second driver. The press release did not mention Verstappen and said only that the team's other driver would be confirmed later.
Hiring Frentzen looks like a good idea to Arrows. Frentzen has won three Grand Prix victories in his career (three more than Verstappen) and he has done it with two different teams, which is always a good sign. His signature would be a big bonus for Arrows particularly as Frentzen is available now for next to nothing as his dispute with Jordan Grand Prix, resulting from his firing last summer, means that Jordan will (almost certainly) end up paying his salary this year.
So not only would Arrows get his services for next to nothing, it would also be taking money from a rival.
Verstappen's management says that it is not worried as a contract between Verstappen and Arrows is in place.
Frentzen is not a dead cert for the team. He does not need Formula 1 any more. If he thinks a drive will be good for his reputation he will take it but he does not need a bad drive at the moment. It would be better to sit out the year and take Jordan's money.
Much will depend on whether the new Arrows-Cosworth is any good. If Frentzen thinks it will enhance his career he will no doubt sign for Arrows. If not he will let Verstappen have the drive. In order to make that decision he will need to test the car. The Mole expects that to happen in the next week or so.
Verstappen's contract is, sadly, irrelevant. Walkinshaw has a habit of changing drivers whether they like it or not. He justifies his actions by saying that he will do whatever is necessary to win. This is an common ambition in F1 but his argument would carry a little more weight if Arrows had actually managed to win something. After five seasons under Walkinshaw's total control the team is no closer to being a winner than it was when it first appeared in F1 back in 1978.
"The only way to protect your reputation is to have 100% control," Walkinshaw said when he acquired the team.
Well, don't worry Tom, your reputation is intact.
Taking on Frentzen rather than Verstappen will simply add to it.
Of course, the Dutch may not be that polite.
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