JUNE 28, 1999
Verstappen to replace Hill?
DAMON HILL left Magny-Cours after a miserable weekend, saying that "this could be my last race" in Formula 1. The former World Champion had previously announced his intention to retire at the end of the year, saying that there comes a time for everyone when "the enjoyment factor has decreased sufficiently for me to decide that it is affecting my performance."
Hill said that his retirement is not a question of lacking motivation. "I am trying my best" he said, "and I cannot do better. The chemical reaction or whatever is not happening. There is no question of commitment. I have trained very hard, right through the winter, done all the tests and I set out with my heart and my hopes and intentions high and yet despite that I cannot get what I want out of the car and can't get the best out of myself. Motivation is not an issue. I don't know how better to describe it."
Hill said that he considered quitting immediately but decided against it although there is no doubt that elements within the team want Hill to step aside so that the team can run someone who will help the team secure a good position in the Constructors' Championship.
Hill's failure to qualify in France - where he was allowed to race by the FIA stewards because of "the exceptional circumstances" - did not help his cause and his disappointing race only added to the mounting pressure for him to stand down. The problem for Jordan is that there is no obvious replacement who is available at short notice, although it is possible that a driver could switch from another team if a financial settlement can be made. That course of action is likely to be either controversial or expensive. The obvious solution for Jordan would be to hire Honda test driver Jos Verstappen, who knows the current engine and has plenty of F1 experience. He is thought to be more likely as Hill's replacement than Mika Salo, the other man being mentioned.
In the longer-term Jordan is looking for another topline driver to replace Hill and, at the moment, the market is very thin. The team is understood to be looking at Jarno Trulli, although the Italian may decide that it is wiser to stay with Prost for another year to see how the new Peugeot engine goes before jumping ship. Trulli has a contract with Prost for next year but can get out of it as the team has not produced the results which had been expected. Giancarlo Fisichella is also believed to be on Jordan's shopping list but we understand that his Benetton contract has a buyout clause which would cost Eddie Jordan a massive $13m.
There has been speculation that Jordan might hire Eddie Irvine or David Coulthard but there seems to be very little enthusiasm for either driver within the team.