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Doornbos - future Dutch master? 09 Aug 2005

Robert Doornbos (NED) Minardi Cosworth PS05 
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hungaroring, Hungary, 30 July 2005

Just a few years ago Robert Doornbos looked on course for a professional tennis career. All that changed after a chance meeting with Jacques Villeneuve served up the promise of a new career. Now he is preparing for his third Grand Prix start with Minardi. We take a closer look at the Dutchman’s route into Formula One racing.

That Villeneuve encounter came at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. At the time Doornbos was playing tennis at a semi-professional national level in Holland and had been invited by a sponsor to attend the race as a guest of Williams.

He immediately fell in love with the cars and asked Villeneuve, the then reigning world champion, what it took to get into the sport. Villeneuve gave him a few pointers, but neither man could have imagined that a few years later they’d be going head to head on the same race track.

Doornbos, fired up by his visit to Spa, promptly threw away the tennis racket and the very next season was winning single-seater races, with his career as a tennis ace behind him. In fact, he was a highly impressive second in the Opel Lotus UK Winter Series, taking four pole positions, four victories and four fastest laps.

For 2000 he moved into Formula Fords, again finishing a runner up, this time in the Belgian Championship, thanks to no less than six podium appearances. The man from Rotterdam also took fifth place overall in the Benelux Championship.

He moved up to the British Formula Three championship the following year and a scholarship drive with FGR Racing. That yielded two poles, two wins and a total of nine podiums, including a second place in front of Formula One team bosses at the British Grand Prix support round.

Two seasons with Team Ghinzani followed, one in the German Formula Three series and another in the European Championship, bringing Doorbos a further 11 podiums. He also fared well against international competition, taking pole in the F3 Masters at Spa and finishing second in the Korean Grand Prix.

Graduated to International Formula 3000 came in 2004 with the highly-regarded Arden team. Spa was again Doornbos’s venue of choice, the Belgian circuit providing his first and only win in the series. His time in F3000 was, however, short lived. Before the season was out he had been snapped up by the Jordan Formula One team to serve as their Friday test driver at Grand Prix meetings.

Doornbos made his official Formula One debut at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix and completed the year with outings in Japan and Brazil. When Jordan were taken over by the Midland group, he retained the role for 2005, appearing in the first 11 events of the year for the team, before the Minardi call-up came.

It was an eventful race debut in Germany, Doornbos clashing with the very man that had steered him towards motorsport in the first place - Jacques Villeneuve. Their lap four tangle - Villeneuve described his new rival’s antics as ‘Formula Ford stuff’ - meant an unscheduled pit stop for the rookie, though he still made it to the flag, albeit in 18th and last place.

In his second Grand Prix in Hungary he went out with hydraulics problems, but not before he had set a faster race lap than team mate and fellow Dutchman Christijan Albers. In fact, it is their relationship which is guaranteed to keep the media spotlight on Minardi. No one wants to be beaten by their team mate - especially when you are also competing for the affections of your home nation. It will no doubt be fascinating to watch their rivalry develop.