Verstappen without a ride in '04
With Jordan signing Italian Giorgio Pantano, thereby filling the last remaining vacancy on the 2004 starting grid, Dutch driver Jos Verstappen's future appears none too promising.
But some, in a sport notorious for sudden changes of fortune, suspect there could be more twists and turns before he gets to the end of the road.
"Has he still got the talent? Yes. Has he still got the motivation? I hope he has. He's a bloody good guy, lots of talent, no fool and knows how to race," said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, his last employer.
"If he doesn't drive for all of 2004, you can probably say that's it for him. It's going to be very hard for Jos, much as I love him," added the Australian.
"But I would not give up on Jos yet."
It may be wishful thinking but Verstappen, the most successful Dutch Formula One driver by a mile and with a loud and loyal fan club, has not given up hope of a return at some point this season.
All he needs is a team willing to take on a 31-year-old driver who has been around the block a bit.
Jordan looked a perfect fit until Verstappen's management announced last week that they had broken off talks for the second time in a month in an apparent disagreement over sponsorship space on the car.
"I am going to look around to see what the possibilities are," Verstappen told his local regional daily newspaper De Limburger last week.
"I am not going to take any hasty decisions ... something new will come up. I have not given up Formula One entirely yet."
History supports him to a point -- who can remember a Formula One season without at least one driver replacement even if few come back once they get on the wrong side of 30 and have had a year out?
Or several years out. The man who partnered Michael Schumacher at Benetton in 1994, and is one of the Ferrari champion's best friends in the paddock, has been in this position before.
His chance at Benetton came when Finland's JJ Lehto suffered a neck injury in preseason testing.
That season left the lasting image of Verstappen submerged in a ball of fire in a refuelling blaze at the German Grand Prix, from which he emerged to finish third in the next race in Hungary.
Dropped at the end of that year, he joined Simtek which folded after five races.
After spending 1996 at Arrows and 1997 at Tyrrell he was unemployed again but was then drafted in by Stewart for nine races when they dumped Denmark's Jan Magnussen.
In 1999 he joined a Honda project abandoned after the death of leading light Harvey Postlethwaite and tested for Jordan when Briton Damon Hill suggested he could quit before the end of the season.
That chance never materialized but two years at Arrows followed before he was dropped, despite having a contract, just before the start of the 2002 season to make way for Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Another year out and another comeback, this time with Minardi. The combative Dutchman may have been little more than a journeyman for much of his career, racing for six different teams in eight seasons, but he is a survivor.
"I can go and cry in a little corner but that won't help anybody," said Verstappen, whose 107 starts make him too experienced to test for anyone other than the top four teams.
"But I am clearly disappointed. They've taken away the thing I like most -- racing -- at least for the time being."
"In Formula One it is all about politics and money. In my case as well. Who's to blame for the deal not going ahead is not an issue for me. As a driver you can only stand back, watch and keep your mouth shut and hope that all goes well."
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