AUGUST 4, 2004
Zonta in for da Matta?
We are getting reports in from Brazil and from Germany that Panasonic Toyota Racing's Cristiano da Matta will not be seen in the team again this year and that his place will be taken in the races ahead by the team's third driver Ricardo Zonta. The 28-year-old from Curitiba has been Toyota's third driver for the last two seasons and has not raced in F1 since the middle of 2001 when he was called in by Jordan Grand Prix after Eddie Jordan decided to fire Heinz-Harald Frentzen. He was then dropped and Jordan took on Jean Alesi for the second half of the year. Prior to that Zonta raced for BAR for two seasons, scoring three points in 2000. The Brazilian was the FIA GT Champion of 1998 and won the FIA International Formula 3000 title in 1997.
It is not clear why da Matta has left the team but it has been fairly clear in recent events that the team is unlikely to retain the 2002 CART Champion. The atmosphere within the team has become increasingly strained and already there have been rumours in Brazil that the relationship might not make to the end of the year, da Matta unhappy with the new management and with the fact that the team is in negotiation with Jarno Trulli for the one available seat in 2005.
Brazilian sources say that da Matta is interested in trying to land a drive with Williams in 2005 but this does not seem like a very likely scenario although da Matta told Brazilian journalists recently that he has "good possibilities" for next year in F1. Da Matta also says that his chances of racing in America next year are "almost nil" although there has been some interest from Newman-Haas Racing.
"I've already done what I had to do there," da Matta told the Brazilian publication Grandepremio.
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