News roundup - Massa and Gene confirmed 03 Nov 2003
Last week saw another two key Formula One driving positions filled for 2004. Felipe Massa was finally confirmed as Giancarlo Fisichella's team mate at Sauber, while Marc Gene was re-signed as reserve and test driver for Williams.
Massa made his Formula One race debut for Sauber in 2002, before spending the past season as a test driver for Ferrari. The 22-year-old will now return to the Swiss team after signing a two-year contract at their Hinwil headquarters.
"My year as a Ferrari test driver has been of great value to me, and I've learnt a lot," said the Brazilian. "Naturally, though, my goal has been to drive races again. I'm overjoyed to return to Sauber. I had a great time with them before, and there's no doubt in my mind that the team has all the prerequisites for being successful."
Team principal Peter Sauber was delighted about Massa's return: "Back in 2002, Felipe already proved his exceptional speed. At the end of that season, I had recommended to him that, rather than going on to race for any other team, he should sign on with Ferrari as a test driver in order to become even more familiar with the technical aspects of Formula One. Getting first-hand experience of how Ferrari and Michael Schumacher operate is perfect training for a young racing driver. I'm convinced that Felipe is now able to make optimum use of his potential."
Meanwhile, Gene, 29, has been retained by Williams, having undertaken testing duties for the team since 2001 and completing nearly 42,000 development kilometres. He has also raced for the team, standing in for Ralf Schumacher at this year's Italian Grand Prix, where he finished fifth.
"I'm confident that the team could have no-one better as the mainstay of our testing programme," said Williams Chief Operations Engineer, Sam Michael. "Marc is quick, consistent, and provides the team engineers with excellent and intelligent feedback. It gives me great confidence to know that he will be with the team again next year. I'm also comfortable knowing that Marc, if needed, can also race competitively as he showed this season."
In another Williams development, the team announced that it will be giving a test to Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung sometime over the winter. The 20-year-old was awarded the opportunity in recognition of his domination of 2003's inaugural Formula BMW Asia Championship.
"We have been watching Ho-Pin Tung carefully," said BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. "In his Formula One test, he will be compared to other promising young drivers. Formula One isn't always part of the Formula BMW programme, but in individual cases we use the connection between our involvement in talent promotion and the top level of motor racing."
Elsewhere, Jenson Button became the first driver to visit the new Bahrain International Circuit, venue for the 2004 Grand Prix of Bahrain. Meanwhile, McLaren revealed that Button's former BAR team mate Jacques Villeneuve has approached the team concerning a possible testing role. They told news agency Reuters, however, that "no meaningful discussions have taken place".