OCTOBER 17, 2000
The progress of Mr. Pantano
Now 21, Pantano shot to prominence in 1993 when he won the Cadet World Championship. He followed this up with a Junior World title in 1994 and then entered senior karting and won the European Formula A title at his first attempt. He was too young to move in to Formula Super A and so had to be content to win the Formula A title for a second time in 1996. At the end of that year he was signed up by the Mercedes-Benz tuning firm AMG which intended to use him in the International Touring Car Championship until it discovered that he was too young to have a licence. The deal turned sour and for a couple of years Pantano's career went off the rails. In 1997 and 1998 he raced uncompetitive machinery in Formula Super A but he began 1999 testing a Formula 3000 car - and going well.
The problem was that he did not have any money and his 1999 season was completely unstructured with races here and there in different formulae. He was quick in all of them but there was no continuity until he came under the wing of former Team Lotus boss Peter Collins. Collins is a man who recognizes talent when he sees it. He played an important role in the careers of a number of top drivers, notably Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, Johnny Herbert and Alex Zanardi.
Collins came close to negotiating a deal for Pantano in Formula 3000 this year with Team Astromega but it all went wrong at the last minute and Pantano had to make do with a drive for the KMS team in the German Formula 3 Championship. Eight months later Pantano is on the verge of winning that title at his first attempt. He has already done his first Formula 1 tests with Benetton but the team did not seem to think he was ready for Formula 1. Amazingly, Pantano is still a free agent at the moment although he was spotted visiting Williams a few weeks ago.
Even if Benetton did not recognize the talent, Pantano has a big future in Formula 1.