Paddock postcard from Hungary 24 Aug 2003
Drivers are the talking point in the paddock here in Hungary this weekend.
For a start, David Coulthard has been confirmed for another season alongside Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren, together with Alexander Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa as the test drivers.
In the days leading up to the race Renault also confirmed that Jarno Trulli will stay alongside Fernando Alonso. It is thought likely that Allan McNish will also be retained, if his hopes of a race drive elsewhere do not materialise.
On Saturday Sauber also announced the expected news that Giancarlo Fisichella will be one of its drivers in 2004 and 2005; many are expecting, provided the final details of the deal can be ratified between Ferrari, Sauber and sponsor Petronas, that former Sauber driver and current Ferrari tester Felipe Massa will return to the Swiss team as Fisichella's partner.
Ralph Firman's spectacular accident on Saturday morning gave local hero Zsolt Baumgartner the chance to make his Grand Prix debut for Jordan. The first-ever winner of a Grand Prix was Hungarian Ferenc Szisz for Renault in France in 1906, but the F3000 graduate is the first of his nationality to start a Formula One World Championship Grand Prix.
Elsewhere, F3000 drivers attracted a great deal of attention. Arden Motorsport duo Bjorn Wirdheim (the newly crowned champion) and Townsend Bell are due to test for BAR in September, and celebrated the first pit-stop F3000 race by finishing second and third. This marked the first time in most memories that an American (Bell) had stood on the podium after an F3000 clash.
Austrian Patrick Friesacher was also in the news after a stylish first win for Coloni Motorsport, but the real star of the show was former karting world champion Vitantonio Liuzzi. After taking pole position by half a second (another memory-defeating achievement, on only his 12th flying lap of the Hungaroring), he led the race from Friesacher until their pit stops. While Wirdheim's stop had seen him stationary for 17 seconds, a problem with the right rear wheel air hammer kept Liuzzi at a standstill for 27 seconds. After blistering in and out laps he then hauled himself back into contention and snatched fourth place from Bell on the entry to the final corner and grabbed third from fellow countryman Giorgio Pantano in Turn Four, only to spin on the marbles offline. He gathered himself together and passed both Bell and Pantano in Turn 13 on the final lap, but lost third again after sliding into Pantano during the move. He crossed the line fourth with damaged steering but was subsequently given a 25 second penalty, which those who had been entertained by his Mansell-like commitment regarded as harsh. If there had been a fighting spirit award he would have been the clear winner. It surely won't be long before Formula One teams come knocking on his door too, on that showing.