DECEMBER 23, 2003
Now what for Justin?
With Zsolt Baumgartner now confirmed by Minardi there is only one hope for Justin Wilson in 2004 in Formula 1 - with Jordan - and the chances of Wilson getting the drive are decidedly thin with a number of drivers with serious money circulating at the moment.
There are at least four drivers around at the moment with at least $6m in sponsorship available and a couple have more than $10m. This put Eddie Jordan in a very strong position as he can sell his drives for less space on the car, thus allowing for the possibility that new sponsors could be lured to the team with the extra space available. Jordan will probably take a British driver as Benson & Hedges is keen on having a face for the UK market and is willing to pay an extra $6m for a Brit, on top of the regular sponsorship of $12m. Wilson, Allan McNish and Ralph Firman are all possible for the drive and McNish appears to have an advantage at the moment as there are suggestions that he has the backing from engine supplier Ford. Having said that, Firman has Irish connections and that is useful for Jordan. Wilson is the least likely of the three to land a drive and the second Jordan seat is rather unlikely as Jos Verstappen is rumored to have something in the region of $15m in sponsorship, although no deal is expected soon as Jordan will be keen to keep Verstappen dangling and increase his demands. Verstappen has no option and so either has to do a deal with Jordan or drop out of F1. One way or the other Verstappen's new management made a serious error when it announced that it was no longer negotiating with Minardi. This opened the way for Baumgartner and closed all the options for Verstappen.
Wilson is in trouble because if he cannot land a drive racing in 2004, he is unlikely to get a job testing. The teams which will have three drivers on Fridays in 2004 are not allowed to use drivers with immediate F1 experience (six races in the previous two years) and so Wilson's only hope are the top four teams: Ferrari already has three test drivers: Luca Badoer, Luciano Burti and Felipe Massa; McLaren has Alexander Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa; Williams has Marc Gene and possibly Antonio Pizzonia and Renault has Franck Montagny.
Wilson could become a test driver for teams away from the Grands Prix but most of the midfield teams do not have big enough budgets to do as much testing as they want to do and several are understood to be asking for money from test drivers as well as race drivers.
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