APRIL 20, 2001

South American Shuffle

THE shifting sands of the Formula 1 driver market have seen a South American shuffle this week, as Jaguar Racing and Prost Grand Prix have sought to field stronger driver line-ups for the remaining 13 rounds of this season.

Brazilian Luciano Burti, promoted from his testing role at Stewart Ford/Jaguar Racing into the number two slot alongside Eddie Irvine has been axed after five race appearances and transferred across to Prost.

Burti says that he was informed of his dismissal at the San Marino Grand Prix, but with the signing of Pedro de la Rosa to Jaguar just before the first round of the season, such a scenario was always likely and Burti has been keeping his options open. He will now appear with Prost for the remaining races of the year.

"It was the best option to my future in F1," said Burti on his website. "I have been talking to Alain since the Brazilian GP but I didn't imagine that I would drive for the team this season as I had a full year. "It is an honor to have a driver such as Alain, four-time world champion, recognizing my job."

Burti will be replaced by de la Rosa in time for the Spaniard's home Grand Prix next weekend. Dropped by Arrows prior to the start of the season after a bust-up with Tom Walkinshaw over sponsorship, de la Rosa was originally bound for testing duties at Prost, but at the eleventh hour swapped to Jaguar when a race drive was made a part of his contract.

This has been used as a spur to both incumbent Jaguar drivers to focus their attentions, but as Jaguar endures a second nightmare season Burti has been viewed as one of the weaker links in the team. De la Rosa is now expected to push Irvine hard, as the Irishman continues to criticize the competitiveness of the Jaguar effort.

In response the Prost team has dropped its Argentinian driver Gaston Mazzacane to make room for Burti. Mazzacane's place in the team was by virtue with the hugely important sponsorship funds of Latin American TV broadcasters PanAmerican Sports Network but his pace in both race and qualifying trim has been woeful. Said team boss Alain Prost: "When one driver is half a second behind it makes both push, but when it is more [than that] it is difficult to work and a big problem for the team."

Prost has been feverishly searching for a suitable South American replacement for Mazzacane for some time, and most recently another Brazilian, Ricardo Zonta, was tipped for the hotseat. Zonta though feels that his future is better served at Jordan, and with Jarno Trulli's contract up at the end of this season he might well be on to something. In the meantime Burti fits the bill for Prost, and the shakeup should see both the Prosts mixing it with both the Jaguars on a regular basis. The midfield battles should definitely gain spice as a result of this week's maneuvers.