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MAY 5, 2003

The Pizzonia saga

The focus of media attention at the Spanish Grand Prix was whether or not Jaguar Racing would decide to keep Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia for the rest of the season or replace him with Austria's Alexander Wurz, the McLaren third driver.

A Jaguar spokesman made it clear in a statement to THE GUARDIAN in the days after the San Marino Grand Prix that Pizzonia's future was under review and stories soon emerged that Jaguar Racing had approached both Wurz and McLaren to see whether a deal could be organized.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis said that his team would never get in the way of a driver's career, but seemed to do exactly that in the days that followed as Wurz was publicly saying that his goal "has always been to get back into racing". One cannot blame McLaren however as Wurz is very well-paid and is an integral part of the McLaren development program and would be a great loss to the team. It appears that McLaren did try to find a suitable solution for Wurz and an offer was made to Jaguar which Dennis said was "not negotiable". Jaguar declined to accept whatever deal was being offered and as Wurz clearly did not have an affordable escape clause in his contract, he will now remain where he is.

Pizzonia's manager Jaime Brito made no secret of the fact that he would be insisting on a large financial settlement if Jaguar Racing did decided to drop Pizzonia, arguing that most of Antonio's problems this year have been the result of technical problems. Brito also said that Pizzonia would not accept a testing role at Jaguar Racing.

As the Barcelona weekend progressed the messages coming out of Jaguar became increasingly confused with the team's sporting director John Hogan saying that "nobody is holding a gun to Antonio's head" and managing director David Pitchforth saying that the whole process had been "a storm in a teacup".

There was more than a little annoyance in the media after the team issued a statement blaming the press for having stirred up the story when it was clear that the whole business had been started by a quote from a team spokesman and by off-the-record comments made by other team members.

By the end of the Spanish GP weekend the matter seemed to be settled with Pizzonia confirming that the team had told him that he would be staying for the rest of the season.

"Basically," Pizzonia said, "they said that they had made a mistake and let's carry on and make progress."

The strange thing about the whole interlude is that in recent weeks Jaguar Racing has been doing extremely well and yet somehow the team has managed to get the attention of the world's press focussed on the one negative aspect in the story rather than on the progress which has been made by the team and by Mark Webber.