DECEMBER 2, 1996

Verstappen joins Tyrrell

LATE last Thursday night Jos Verstappen signed to drive for Tyrrell in 1997.

LATE last Thursday night Jos Verstappen signed to drive for Tyrrell in 1997. The 24-year-old Dutchman completes Tyrrell's 1997 line-up of Mika Salo and test driver Toranosuke Takagi. The team - which will use the latest high-revving Ford V8 engines - has landed a major sponsorship deal from Japanese auto accessory and clothing company PIAA and will continue to enjoy backing from Korean Air.

It remains to be seen whether Verstappen will bring any sponsorship with him to Tyrrell but he has long enjoyed backing from the giant Philips electronic empire's car stereo offshoot and from Marlboro. The deal is believed to be a long-term one (Ken Tyrrell usually signs drivers for three years) as Verstappen was in a very weak bargaining position.

Tyrrell had come close to signing a deal the previous day with Brazilian Ricardo Rosset as Verstappen was showing no interest in the drive, hoping for a ride with either Jordan or Sauber.

Verstappen is a good catch for Tyrrell and the team is delighted to have such a strong driver line-up. Although a little accident-prone Jos is blindingly fast and has still only competed in 31 Grands Prix with Benetton, Simtek and Arrows. His best results to date are two third places when he was driving for Benetton in 1994.

Verstappen's signing is bad news for Rosset, who is left with no option but to join the nascent Mastercard Lola team - which is not expected to be very competitive early on - or to try and find a test drive and hope to get back into F1 in 1998. It is disastrous news for Frenchman Emmanuel Collard - Tyrrell's 1996 test driver - who was hoping that Tyrrell would promote him into the racing team because he has lost the support of his longtime backer Elf. He is now out-of-work without any sponsorship at all.

Tyrrell does not have any engines available with which to test until the new Tyrrell-Ford 025 is ready to run in mid-January. The team will then begin an intensive series of tests at Silverstone, Estoril, Barcelona and Jerez - using all three of its drivers - in preparation for the start of the season in Melbourne in March.